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Dogs at gate tripped up ecstasy dealer during Sunset Music Festival, Tampa police say

Thousands of people pack the Raymond James Stadium north parking lot May 26 for the 2018 Sunset Music Festival. The two-day festival was cut short by a day because of bad weather. [LUIS SANTANA   |   Times]
Thousands of people pack the Raymond James Stadium north parking lot May 26 for the 2018 Sunset Music Festival. The two-day festival was cut short by a day because of bad weather. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
Published Jul. 3, 2018

TAMPA — Two people died from an ecstasy overdose at the Sunset Music Festival two years ago, prompting calls to cancel the annual event and pledges by promoters to deal with drug use there.

People still are trying to bring drugs inside, according to a lawsuit filed this month, but tighter security tripped up at least one suspect before he could.

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Gregory Richardson is being held in the Hillsborough County Jail after he was found on May 26, the first day of the 2018 festival, carrying plastic bags containing 29 ecstasy pills, 19 grams of cocaine and 11 grams of the anesthetic ketamine, Tampa police said.

Drug-sniffing dogs brought in by festival promoters alerted security personnel to Richardson, 27, of Barnesville, Ga., police said. The promoters could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Action K-9, a private security company that owns the dogs, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

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Tampa police said this is the first year the promoters brought in specially trained dogs for the event, held in the field north of Raymond James Stadium.

The arrest came to light when the Tampa Police Department filed a forfeiture action against Richardson in Hillsborough Circuit Court seeking possession of $8,700 discovered in his wallet when he was searched. Police determined he intended to sell the drugs at the festival, according to the court filing.

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Richardson was arrested on one count of delivering cocaine and one count of trafficking in phenethylamines, the class of stimulants that includes MDMA or ecstasy. Both charges are felonies. Richardson was being held without bond, jail records show, for violating probation from an earlier auto theft charge.

Richardson admitted the drugs were his but denied he intended to sell them, saying they were for use by him and his friends, according to the court filing.

Police are seeking to keep his money under Florida's contraband forfeiture act, which allows for seizure if there is probable cause that money or materials are connected to narcotics activity.

"The amount of cash and drugs Richardson had on his person would be consistent with sale, opposed to personal use," police said in the forfeiture filing.

Richardson was one of 17 people arrested on felony charges at the 2018 Sunset Music Festival, Tampa police said. Shortened a day by the threat from subtropical storm Alberto, the festival recorded fewer arrests per day for the fourth straight year. When the festival made its debut in 2014, nearly 90 people were arrested over its two days.

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In addition, 30 people were transported from the festival to the hospital this year, said Tampa Fire Rescue spokesperson Jason Penny — an increase from the 2017 festival. The average per day then was 26.

A breakdown of the hospital transports this year was not immediately available, but nearby St. Joseph's Hospital told the Tampa Bay Times in 2017 that most of the 27 people it treated from the festival then were suffering from drug or alcohol intoxication.

Abuse of ecstasy at the festival in 2016 caused the deaths of Alex Haynes, 22, of Melbourne, and Katie Bermudez, 21, of Kissimmee, according to autopsies.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn, decrying "a culture of this type of drug use," said he didn't want to see the festival return. But the stadium's operators, the Tampa Sports Authority, decided to continue hosting the event.

Contact Josh Fiallo at jfiallo@tampabay.com

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