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Dozens arrested in Hillsborough County drug and gun investigation

TAMPA — A four-month effort to stem an increase in violent crime in Hillsborough County has netted more than 60 arrests, sheriff's officials announced Thursday.

The effort was a collaboration between the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. It was aimed specifically at gun-related crime in the neighborhood west of the University of South Florida.

For months, agents and deputies worked undercover, immersing themselves in criminal circles in the area known as "the box" — hence the moniker "Operation Gun Box."

Detectives made hundreds of drug purchases, they said. They seized 20 guns.

Most of those charged were arrested this week in a "warrant roundup." Deputies continue to search for several others.

As of Thursday, 64 people had been indicted or arrested on an array of charges. Eleven face drug trafficking charges. Eight face federal indictments.

"Among those charged, every single one has a significant criminal history," said U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley, who oversees federal prosecutions for Central Florida. "These are individuals who need to be behind bars."

All are facing significant prison time, Bentley said.

The effort began in late October after the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office noted a 5 percent increase in overall violent crime coupled with a 9 percent increase in incidents involving guns, officials said.

Deputies were most concerned about an increase in homicides, which rose from 22 in 2014 to 33 last year. Most of those killings were committed with guns.

The county's response to the violence specifically targeted the area bordered by Bearss Avenue to the north, E Fowler Avenue to the south, N Nebraska Avenue to the west and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard to the east. Pejoratively known as "Suitcase City" because of its large transient population, the box has long been considered one of the county's most dangerous neighborhoods.

While the Sheriff's Office routinely conducts undercover investigations in the area, this effort was different, said Col. Donna Lusczynski. The ATF allowed for greater manpower and enhanced resources.

They began focusing on 26 career criminals — those with three or more criminal convictions — living in the box. Those arrested were as young as 20 and as old as 52. Some had criminal records more than 30 pages long.

Among them: Major Brady, 34, a sex offender who has been arrested 38 times.

This time, he was caught selling the prescription drug oxycodone, authorities said. Deputies also found a handgun, marijuana and cocaine inside his home.

Angela Cintron, 33, made three separate sales of cocaine and heroin to undercover deputies. She has been arrested more than 50 times.

On Thursday, Lusczynski praised the agents and deputies who served on the team.

"The men and women who participated in this investigation should be commended for their bravery," she said. "They put themselves in dangerous situations every day they were on the street."

Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

Dozens arrested in Hillsborough County drug and gun investigation 02/18/16 [Last modified: Friday, February 19, 2016 9:15am]
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