WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd says the agency has seized more than 11 pounds of fentanyl in what is being considered the agency's largest fentanyl bust in its history.
"Our detectives seized over 11 pounds of fentanyl, which is enough to kill 2.7 million people. This poison is coming into the country across the border from Mexico, and we are going to continue our investigation into the Mexican drug cartels who are killing innocent people," Judd said during a news conference Friday morning.
The agency says detectives with the Central Florida High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) task force, working together with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, conducted an undercover fentanyl drug trafficking investigation, the agency said in a statement.
The investigation ultimately resulted in three people being arrested.
The sheriff's office explained the investigation began in September when detectives learned of an international drug trafficking organization transporting fentanyl from Mexico to Bradenton and then into Polk County. That's when undercover detectives arranged to purchase fentanyl priced at $24,000 per kilo from an unidentified source in Mexico.
According to detectives, 28-year-old Ignacio Rodriguez of Bradenton served as the local facilitator for the drug buy and confirmed the source for fentanyl in Mexico would only deal in large amounts.
On Sept. 19, the sheriff's office says detectives negotiated the purchase of $60,000 worth of fentanyl. Rodriguez allegedly came to the meeting in Polk County with 5 kilograms, two of which were concealed in a Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal box. The remaining three kilos were in a yellow Igloo cooler.
The sheriff's office adds that Rodriguez warned detectives to be careful of overdosing, recommending they wear a mask and gloves. He also allegedly suggested drinking milk before ingesting the drug to help with feelings of tightness in their chests. He added he could sell the detectives marijuana, meth, and cocaine.
During the investigation, the agency says two other suspected traffickers were identified: 29-year-old Mario Alberto Castro Solache from Raleigh, North Carolina, and 27-year-old Pedro Mondragon of Lillington, NC.
In October, the sheriff's office says Solache and Mondragon drove to Polk County from North Carolina to meet with detectives about another sale of fentanyl. Solache allegedly told detectives that he and the supplier in Mexico wanted to establish a portion of their drug trafficking organization in Polk County.
As a result, detectives took them both into custody on Oct. 12 and booked them into the Polk County Jail. Authorities say the pair told detectives they are being paid to collect money for the fentanyl drug dealer in Mexico.
Solache has been charged with conspiracy to traffic in fentanyl. The sheriff's office adds he is in the country illegally and currently has a border patrol hold in the Polk County Jail.
Mondragon was charged with conspiracy to traffic fentanyl and bonded out of jail on Oct. 17.
On Oct. 14, Rodriguez was taken into custody by the Manatee County Sheriff's Office on a Polk County warrant for trafficking in fentanyl, conspiracy to traffic in fentanyl, possession of a vehicle for drug trafficking, unlawful use of a two-way communication device, and possession of drug paraphernalia.
He was released from the Manatee County Jail on Oct. 15 after posting $56,500 in bond.
The agency says detectives learned that the supplier of fentanyl needed money from the drug sales to pay two different cartels: La Familia Michoacana and the Sinaloa Cartel.
Watch the full news conference below or by clicking here: