COCOA BEACH, Fla. – Fourteen individuals were arrested and a drug trafficking organization was dismantled Thursday following an investigation by the Volusia Bureau of Investigation (VBI). The VBI is a multi-agency task force comprised of 10 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
HSI Cocoa Beach became involved in the investigation, named Operation Tinker Bell, in November 2012. Using a variety of undercover tactics, law enforcement officers infiltrated the drug trafficking organization. They learned it was importing synthetic drugs and chemicals used to create synthetic drugs, commonly referred to as bath salts and K-2, from China and Canada. The organization then distributed those drugs across the United States, selling multiple kilograms each week.
Several organization leaders were arrested Thursday, including Loraine Kennelly, the co-owner of LAD Enterprises in New Smyrna Beach, who investigators believe to be the organization’s leader. She faces several charges, including racketeering and sale of a controlled substance. Several of her employees were also arrested Thursday, along with her husband and sister-in-law.
Law enforcement officials seized 6,700 grams of synthetic drugs during the investigation. On Thursday, they seized an additional 50 pounds and $100,000 in cash from the organization.
"HSI – as a result of its vast-reaching authorities – helped the VBI build the racketeering charges against individuals involved in this organization by tracking how the organization laundered its illicit proceeds," said Shane Folden, deputy special agent in charge of HSI Tampa, which oversees HSI Cocoa Beach. "Additionally, our special agents developed intelligence related to the targets’ international shipping activity. They coordinated searches and seizures of illegal substances destined for members of the trafficking organization."
Synthetic drugs are substances laced with chemicals designed to mimic the effects of drugs such as cocaine, marijuana and hallucinogens. The formulas to make them are frequently changed in an effort to skirt the law, causing health risks to people who take them in part because users can never be sure exactly what they’re ingesting. Consumption of synthetic drugs has been known to cause hallucinations, seizures, tremors, nausea, panic attacks and psychotic episodes.
Volusia County is located on the northeast coast of Florida and encompasses the cities of DeLand, Daytona Beach, New Smyrna Beach and Osteen.