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Hillsborough deputies shut down drive-through drug operation near University Mall, expect more arrests

Hillsborough deputies stand in the courtyard of the Pines I Apartments, 11720 N 14th St., near University Mall in Tampa on Wednesday where a drug “drive-through” was discovered.

TYLER TJOMSLAND | Times

Hillsborough deputies stand in the courtyard of the Pines I Apartments, 11720 N 14th St., near University Mall in Tampa on Wednesday where a drug “drive-through” was discovered.

TAMPA — One by one, motorists arrived, rolling down windows and giving up cash, as they would at a fast-food restaurant.

This drive-through opened at 11 a.m. some days, but lunch was never on the menu.

Instead, customers could order cocaine, oxycodone, ecstasy and marijuana. Guns, too.

At a news conference Wednesday, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office announced that it had broken up a drug trafficking ring that caught even investigators by surprise.

About 11 months ago, deputies began building cases against two men reputed to be dealing drugs in a neighborhood near University Mall.

Investigators thought Zavien Brand, 28, and Joseph Nurse, 35, might lead them to a few more people, maybe six or eight, said sheriff's Maj. J.R. Burton.

But the small undercover probe soon turned into a larger investigation — dubbed Operation Pandora's Box — as deputies realized the area's loose-knit group of dealers included dozens of people.

On Wednesday, sheriff's officials announced they had 54 warrants and, as of 4 p.m., 32 arrests, most on drug and gun possession charges.

"We had no idea this was going on," Burton said.

They focused on several addresses in the neighborhood near Nebraska and Fletcher avenues. The drive-through was at the Pines I Apartments at 11720 N 14th St., deputies said.

Deputies took 29 guns off the street, including seven assault rifles and two weapons believed to be linked to shootings in the area.

Also seized: about 1.3 pounds of crack cocaine, 0.64 ounces of powder cocaine, 0.25 ounces of oxycodone and some ecstasy — valued at about $75,000 total, Burton said.

Burton hopes the operation sends a message to an area that has long struggled with crime, and he wants residents to know that deputies aren't done.

Brand was charged with dealing crack cocaine and being a felon in possession of a gun. Nurse was charged with dealing crack cocaine, marijuana and stolen property.

Deputies planned to continue executing search warrants until they arrest all 54 suspects.

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or jvandervelde@sptimes.com.

Hillsborough deputies shut down drive-through drug operation near University Mall, expect more arrests 09/07/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 8, 2011 12:02am]
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