ST. PETERSBURG — Police arrested 21 people in a drug bust that netted more than 100 pounds of marijuana, along with cocaine, fentanyl, guns and cash, Chief Anthony Holloway announced Friday.
The nine-month investigation started as an effort to address violent crime in the city, Holloway said, and played out amid one of the deadliest years St. Petersburg has seen in recent memory.
Those arrested face mostly drug charges, but Holloway said during a news conference the group “could be” related to some homicides last year. Spokesperson Yolanda Fernandez declined to specify what evidence suggested that link, citing the active investigation, but said investigators are testing the recovered weapons.
“This investigation should help curb violence in our city and county,” Holloway said. “This group is linked to several shootings in 2020 and 2021 as they fought to keep control over the drug trade in the city.”
Over the course of the investigation, detectives also developed probable cause to arrest one of the group members on charges of attempted murder.
In that incident, 22-year-old Le’Rodrick Brister fired “numerous shots” from a car at a man he knew in July, according to court records. He also shot at the man’s mother’s house, police said. Brister was arrested and booked into jail July 19. He remained there Friday in lieu of posting bail. Court records show he pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and other gun charges.
None of those arrested were involved in the 28 homicides so far this year that police have solved, Holloway said. One homicide remains unsolved.
Detectives seized seven guns in the bust, Holloway said, including one that was stolen from a car. They also took 127 pounds of marijuana, 8 pounds of powder cocaine and about a half-pound of fentanyl, along with $150,000 in jewelry, $73,000 in cash and five cars. The group was using marijuana sales to finance the rest of the operation, Holloway said.
The group tested batches of fentanyl on people with substance use disorders, Holloway said, asking them to report back how strong it was. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid used in a medical setting to treat severe pain but has become a driving force of overdose deaths via street sales.
Those arrested face charges ranging from conspiracy to sell marijuana to armed trafficking of heroin to possession and sale of crack, according to a police news release. Other charges include conspiracy to commit armed robbery, unlawful use of a two-way communications device, felon in possession of a firearm and tampering with evidence. The arrested individuals range in age from 19 to 46.
The group was working out of the Childs Park neighborhood, Holloway said. Detectives executed search warrants at four homes and apartments around the city: 3106 Fifth Ave. N, apartment 2103; 6411 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. S, 2954 37th Ave. N and 3840 Seventh Ave. N unit 2.
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Holloway had a warning for anyone trying to replace the group: “Think twice about it. We may not catch you today. We may not catch you tomorrow, but we’re going to catch you just like we caught this group.”