Record-breaking Drug Bust
Investigators estimate the ringleaders were responsible for distributing about $30 million of cocaine and pot over the last 7 years and most of them are in the same family.
Four members of the Warren family of Columbia County face 10 years to life in federal prison and $4 millionB of fines after their arrest on Friday. Drug Enforcement Agents say the Warrens made and distributed 1500 kilograms of cocaine since 2000. Some neighbors are surprised, and others think it's a set-up.
Lori Coker lives across the street from where Sylvester Warren III and half-brother Doug Bradley lived. She says they were perfect neighbors--never any loud parties or a lot of cars going back and forth.
"It's shocking to me," says Coker. "They seemed like really nice people. I've never seen anything that made me question if anything was going on."
Federal, state and local agents conducted a two year investigation.
"There has been a dent put in the drug trafficking in Columbia County," says Acting U.S. Attorney James R. Klindt.
They say the Warrens distributed drugs in three states and locally in Alachua, Columbia, Marion and Suwannee counties. Deputies seized cocaine, cash, three cars and three guns.
"I think it's going to send a strong message out to the drug traffickers that law enforcement is not going to tolerate drug trafficking in this area," says DEA Special Agent Randall Bohman. "Law enforcement working with communities can make a better and safer place to live."
But Sheriff Bill Gootee says he thinks the Warrens are just the tip of the iceberg. He finished the press conference with these ominous words:
"I look forward to hosting more of these press conferences and this is only the beginning. Thank you very much."
A Lake City home on Ashley Street is one of two places federal agents got a search warrant to go inside and look for evidence. The mother of Sylvester Warren III, Michael Warren and Doug Bradley is inside today. She says she and her sons are innocent and it's all a set up.
But she's not the only one who thinks her family has been framed.
"I go over there and aggravate them all the time," says Neighbor Enos Jones. "I don't know what the deal is. But that ain't them."
But Coker won't have the same view out her front door.
"It's a shock," says Coker. "But you never know who you live by, I guess."
Agents say three more ringleaders are on the loose, including one more Warren family member. The four that are behind bars have a hearing before a judge tomorrow.
Ten additional people have been arrested in Columbia County for dealing marijuana or cocaine.
By Dan Breitwieser, WCJB TV20 News
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