By Henry Pierson Curtis
POLK COUNTY, Fla. — A drug ring that employed a vast network — including a voodoo priest — supplying methamphetamine across Central Florida and the U.S. was shutdown this week, the Polk County Sheriff's office announced Wednesday.
The 13 suspects arrested Tuesday were among 25 couriers, distributors and street dealers identified in Operation Hoodoo Voodoo, the investigation of an alleged multimillion-dollar meth pipeline from Mexico.
Javier Flores, known as "El Don (The Boss)," supervised the shipments from his home in southern California and remains at large, according to Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.
On Tuesday, 44 pounds of the powerful amphetamine were seized at Love's Truck Stop in Polk City, where one of the ring leaders, Luis Villafuerte-Rojas, was arrested when the shipment arrived by truck from California.
The uncut powder was worth about $2 million, according to the Polk County Sheriff's Office.
The identity of the priest and where he lived were not released during a news conference Wednesday.
Serving as spiritual adviser to Flores and Ma-Conception Lopez, 38, the ring's other alleged leader in Central Florida, the priest also stayed in contact with lower-level members, said sheriff's spokeswoman Donna Woods.
In February, after $200,000 in cash was seized by investigators, the ringleaders sought the priest's guidance.
"They wanted to know if it was OK to continue," said Woods. "The priest advised them everything's OK. Just lay low for a couple of weeks. It's not the police. It's someone inside the organization."
And then she added, "As a matter of fact, it was the police."
Lopez, who lived with Villafuerte-Rojas, 39, and allegedly co-managed the ring, served three years in prison after being convicted with conspiring sell methamphetamine in Lakeland.
After her release in 2009, she was deported to Mexico and returned illegally to Florida, records show.
"Through their investigation, detectives and agents learned the organized methamphetamine crime ring was responsible for the distribution of large amounts of methamphetamine in Lake, Orange, Osceola, Polk and Seminole Counties," the Sheriff's Office stated in a report.
The ring was extremely well-armed with about 100 firearms including AR-15 assault rifles, an AK-47 pistol with a drum magazine, a grenade launcher, bulletproof body armor and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
It could not be learned if any violent crime charges were pending against the 13 defendants arrested so far on methamphetamine-related charges and held in jail.
"They had everything you can imagine — just all manner of weapons," Woods said.
Two children, ages 1 and 3, were removed from the home of an unidentified defendant and placed in state custody.
At least 12 more suspects are sought by the joint investigation that began in October by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, state Attorney General's Office of Statewide Prosecution and the sheriff's offices in Lake and Polk counties.
Those at large include Flores, believed to be about 40, and Joshua Widdows, who had about 75 firearms that were seized during a search of his Lakeland home.
Widdows and fellow fugitive Tyler Scott were friends with Matthew Tutt, a Polk County burglar who shot and seriously wounded Deputies Mike Braswell and Paul Fairbanks before they returned fire, killing him in June 2010, according to the Sheriff's Office.
The Operation Hoodoo Voodoo suspects still at large include residents of Georgia, Davenport, Kissimmee, Lakeland, Windermere and Winter Garden.
Copyright 2014 The Orlando Sentinel
McClatchy-Tribune News Service