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Largest heroin bust in Hernando history comes with image of Donald Trump

Hernando County sheriff's deputies displayed 5,550 doses of heroin Friday, worth between $50,000 to $100,000 on the street, captured during the county's largest heroin bust in history. [Josh Solomon | Times]
Hernando County sheriff's deputies displayed 5,550 doses of heroin Friday, worth between $50,000 to $100,000 on the street, captured during the county's largest heroin bust in history. [Josh Solomon | Times]
Published Feb. 3, 2017

BROOKSVILLE — One pile of wax paper envelops that contained individually wrapped doses of heroin bore the name of El Chapo, the infamous Mexican drug lord.

Another pile had envelopes with the name of Colombian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar.

Yet another pile had the name and likeness of President Donald Trump — a joke Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi didn't think was funny.

"All I want to say to this drug dealer is, 'Big mistake by putting the president's picture on this,' " Bondi said while holding up one of the little white squares. "Big mistake. Because he is going to be our most fierce advocate in taking this junk off of our streets. Can you believe this? Big mistake."

The envelopes laid out on a table inside the Hernando County Emergency Operations Center on Friday numbered about 5,550. Authorities could not explain the purpose for the different images on them. Most of them were seized Jan. 27 in what Hernando sheriff's officials are calling the county's largest heroin bust ever.

Kelvin Scott Johnson, 46, of Spring Hill, the man deputies believe was responsible for bringing the drugs into the county, was arrested that day on charges of heroin trafficking, possession and sale of heroin, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, unlawful use of a two-way communication device and driving with a suspended license. He was being held Friday in lieu of $75,000 bail at the Hernando County Detention Center.

Depending on the weight of the drugs — they weighed 3.3 pounds when measured inside the packaging — Johnson, if convicted, could face a minimum mandatory sentence of 15 to 25 years, Nienhuis said.

Investigators were first alerted to Johnson's alleged drug activity in May 2016, said Sheriff Al Nienhuis, when the U.S. Postal Service notified the department that its agents had intercepted a package containing 550 doses of heroin headed for Hernando County. The package, Nienhuis said, originated from somewhere in the northeastern part of the United States, though he wouldn't say where.

Once detectives locked onto Johnson, they discovered he was in the midst of another trip north. When he returned last week, Hernando deputies conducted a traffic stop and found cocaine in the car. Elsewhere, they were able to find a package of his that contained about 5,000 doses of heroin, which Neinhuis said had a street value of $50,000 to $100,000.

Detectives were confident the two intercepted shipments were not the only packages Johnson sent to Hernando.

Nienhuis said getting the drugs off the street meant there would be fewer addicts in Hernando County. If only 1 percent of the doses went to first-time users, he said, that could be 55 people newly addicted to heroin.

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Johnson, the sheriff said, has a criminal record dating back to 1989, when he began a rap sheet in New Jersey. In Florida, he's been arrested 13 times, the sheriff said, and he was adjudicated guilty 12 of those times.

"This individual is definitely someone that we don't want selling poison to our brothers and our sisters and our sons and our daughters," Nienhuis said.

Bondi warned that heroin presents dangers beyond those normally associated with the drug. Sometimes it's sold laced with fentanyl, a heavy synthetic drug. Other times it's pressed into pill form and sold on the street as medications like Xanax, which could prove deadly for the buyer.

The bust comes during a concerted effort by the Sheriff's Office to rid the county of drugs. The office frequently releases news of its deputies raiding places suspected of growing marijuana and producing methamphetamine.

"It is the one area in law enforcement where we can be a little bit proactive and take this stuff off the street rather than responding to a death or an overdose or a burglary," the sheriff said. "We can hopefully prevent some of that stuff by working hard to get this stuff off the street."

Nienhuis encouraged those in the county who are addicted to seek help. Otherwise, he said, they run the risk of being arrested.

"And detoxing in the Hernando County jail, although we'll take care of you, is not the best place to detox."

The sheriff said it's likely his detectives already know who in the county is selling, and that they'll eventually get to all of the dealers.

Bondi, who has long been rumored to join the Trump administration, said she'd see that Johnson's joke got to the president.

"I'm going to make sure (Trump) gets one of these packages when the case is all over to put in the Oval Office to remind him of all the good he's doing," she said.

Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or jsolomon@tampabay.com. Follow @josh_solomon15.