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Polk Sheriff Grady Judd announces record drug bust, talks politics

“I’d love to tell you how many lives our detectives saved,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said. “I can’t.”

Polk County Sheriff’s deputies had a “happy Thanksgiving” last Thursday, Sheriff Grady Judd said — not because the turkey and gravy were particularly good, but because it marked the end of a months-long drug operation that concluded with the largest heroin seizure in the agency’s history.

A news conference Monday also gave Judd a chance to tie the operation to a swath of political planks, as he took aim at undocumented immigration, California’s legal system and advocates of drug decriminalization.

The sting, dubbed Operation Trifecta, spanned nearly eight months, four states and six arrests, Judd said. Over the course of it, law enforcement officials seized 137 pounds of meth and, in two separate Thanksgiving Day busts, five kilos — about 10 pounds — of heroin.

The drugs had a total street value of about $9.5 million, Judd estimated.

“This is a huge amount of drugs when we’re used to seeing it by grams, by hits,” he said. “And we know how dangerous heroin is of its own nature, and then along the way it gets cut with fentanyl."

He said an operation like this should cast shame on advocates of drug decriminalization — even though that advocacy typically focuses on the consumption of drugs, not sales.

“I’d love to tell you how many lives our detectives saved,” he added later. “I can’t.”

The drugs weren’t making their way through central Florida when deputies seized them, though. Undercover deputies instead built relationships with the accused drug traffickers in California, Illinois and Texas, Judd said, and convinced them that they could build pipelines in this part of the state. Then, when the drugs made their way to Florida, the arrests began.

Undercover deputies arranged purchases of about 40 pounds of meth from California between April and July, Judd said, in one case flying to Los Angeles to make a deal. Then in August, Polk deputies went back to California, where along with local agencies they arrested two accused traffickers and seized another 100 pounds of meth.

Judd said both men arrested in California, Albaro Armando Carillo Jr. and Jose Juan Tafolla-Navarrete, were undocumented immigrants. Throughout the news conference, he used their status to advocate for tighter borders, saying that "why in the world we accept people coming across this border from other countries to prey on and commit crime against innocent people is beyond me.”

He also said Tafolla-Navarrete has been released from jail in California on bail and that neither of the men has been reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“California’s a trainwreck," he said. "If you want to see how not to deal with criminals, go to California.”

Around the same time period, he said, undercover deputies connected with accused heroin traffickers in Houston and Chicago. In early November, deputies said they bought a kilo of heroin from Julio Cesar Don Juan, of Houston. They arranged for him and his brother, Rene Don Juan-Gonzalez, to deliver another 1.25 kilos on Thanksgiving. Judd said deputies met them at a Walmart in North Lakeland and arrested them. They both face heroin trafficking charges.

Earlier that day, Judd said, deputies also arrested Francisco Reyna-Duran and Susana Salgado-Solis, who they said traveled from Chicago to deliver 3.25 kilos of heroin. Judd said Salgado-Solis’ two young children made the trip with her and are now in the custody of the Department of Children and Families. Reyna-Duran and Salgado-Solis face heroin trafficking charges, and Salgado-Solis faces a charge of negligent child abuse.

The Sheriff’s Office does not expect to make any more arrests under this investigation, Judd said. The accused traffickers were not all connected, he said — deputies believe the California, Chicago and Houston pairs were unknown to each other — and they don’t seem to have other pipelines established in central Florida.

Maybe, Judd suggested, the accused traffickers felt like the deals were a sure thing because they didn’t expect police to work on Thanksgiving.

“We ate turkey, too,” he said. “Just later that day.”