Eighty-five suspects were arrested and over $12.8 million in drugs were confiscated in a two-year undercover drug trafficking investigation, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office said on Friday.
The investigation entitled, “Operation Flying Ice,” stemmed from a September 2020 search warrant in Winter Haven, Florida, that netted just one pound of methamphetamine. From that initial incident, investigators uncovered a methamphetamine trafficking scheme that involved large amounts of methamphetamine being smuggled from California to Florida in checked luggage on domestic flights, according to police.
At a Friday news conference, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd showed six pieces of luggage that were fully loaded with methamphetamine.
“On one occasion, on one airline, six suitcases with this drug were smuggled into Orlando. They didn’t so much throw a pair of underwear in the suitcase to act like they were hiding the drugs. You think LAX has a drug smuggling problem at the airport? I believe they do, and they need to address it ASAP. There were six of these suitcases on one flight,” Judd said, referring to Los Angeles International Airport.
A Transportation Safety Administration spokesperson said in a statement to CNN on Friday evening, “TSA’s screening procedures are focused on our mission of security and are designed to detect potential threats to aviation and passengers. Accordingly, TSA security officers do not search for illegal drugs, but if discovered during the security screening process, TSA will refer the matter to our law enforcement partners for their action.”
In total, more than 489 lbs. of drugs were recovered in the operation, as well as 49 firearms, three non-active grenades, two bulletproof vests, $250,000 in cash and a stolen motorcycle, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. it said the 268 lbs. in methamphetamines recovered was worth about $9.3 million, while 180 lbs. of cannabis valued at $1.6 million and 31 lbs. of cocaine worth $1.4 million was seized.
“I’m so very proud of our detectives and the agents and law enforcement officers who partnered with us to get these dangerous drugs and felons off the street. This is the single largest seizure of drugs and arrests made in the history of Polk County during an undercover wiretap investigation. We will continue to follow up leads and make more arrests, so those who think they got away from us – think again,” Judd said.
The 85 suspects arrested in the operation were charged with a total of 355 felonies and 93 misdemeanors, according to police.
Detectives learned that one of the suspects arrested, Demarcus Terrell Jefferson, lost his brother, Devontae, as a result of an overdose of fentanyl and Xanax. Family members continued to see drugs after his death, according to police.
CNN has reached out to Los Angeles International Airport for comment.