Advertisement

Tampa airport police investigate ring that shrink-wrapped pot for smuggling

The Tampa International Police Department has seized suitcases containing cash and more than 200 pounds of drugs as they traveled between Tampa and Los Angeles.
 
A drug ring has brought in marijuana from Los Angeles and sent back cash in suitcases through Tampa International Airport, airport police said.
A drug ring has brought in marijuana from Los Angeles and sent back cash in suitcases through Tampa International Airport, airport police said. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Feb. 9, 2022|Updated Feb. 9, 2022

TAMPA — During the past several months, an organized ring has brought more than 200 pounds of drugs from Los Angeles into Tampa through the cities’ airports and sent back cash, investigators say.

The airport investigation is revealed in an affidavit filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court seeking permission to search a cell phone used by a 24-year-old Tampa man. A judge signed the warrant Dec. 8.

The Tampa International Airport Police Department declined to discuss the case Wednesday because the investigation is ongoing.

The Tampa man is accused of using his phone to coordinate the retrieval by several couriers of drug-laden luggage at Tampa International Airport. An airport detective seized 57.5 pounds of marijuana in shrink wrap from one of his suitcases, the search warrant affidavit said.

In addition, Facebook Messenger texts between the man and others in the ring show discussions about acquiring a “sealer” to conceal the drugs making the journey between Tampa and Los Angeles.

Not included in the affidavit is the Tampa man’s arrest July 23 for speeding away from the airport as an airport police officer pursued him with lights and sirens activated. The man was tracked to a Tampa apartment and arrested on a charge of fleeing and attempting to elude police.

Six months later, on Dec. 1, he was arrested again on a charge of violating his probation by failing to get a travel permit to go to California, according to an arrest affidavit. He had received the probation for the fleeing and eluding charge and for a 2020 aggravated battery charge.

The man is the only suspect identified by name in the search warrant affidavit. He has not been arrested on drug charges in the case. He could not be reached Wednesday at phone numbers or an email listed as his.

The Tampa Bay Times is not naming the man because at this time he faces only minor criminal charges.

Airport police in Tampa have seen members of the ring retrieve suitcases later found to contain large amounts of drugs, the search warrant affidavit said. Money was also seized from a suitcase headed for Los Angeles, “a well-known, well-documented narcotics source city,” the affidavit said.

In an earlier search of a cell phone belonging to another member of the drug ring, airport investigators found a money transfer involving the Tampa man, the affidavit said. The transfer was made through the Cash App mobile application while the two were traveling together in Los Angeles to buy drugs, the affidavit said.

Investigators also found a group message informing members of the ring that the Tampa man had been arrested, the affidavit said.