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Polk County drug bust: Sweep nabs 30 suspected drug dealers with 420 past arrests

2:07 PM, Jun 29, 2012   |    comments
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Bartow, Florida -- All told, they have 420 prior arrests between them. But all of the 30 suspected drug dealers caught in a sweep Thursday were out of prison.

Mug Shot Gallery: Sweep nabs 30 drug dealers

"Operation City Sweep" stormed through Bartow on Thursday, turning a 10-month investigation into a series of raids nabbing suspected drug dealers across the Polk County town.

Sheriff Grady Judd said instead of sitting in prison, they were selling drugs across the street from a day care center, next to a playground, and -- in the case of a grandmother -- out of her house.

A 7-year-old boy was watching cartoons in the room, Judd said.

One man picked up in the sweep is a suspect in the disappearance of his own daughter 10 years ago. Ta'niyah Leonard vanished in October 2002, when she was 11 months old.

Michael Lewis and his girlfriend have both accused the other of being the last person to have seen the little girl, Bartow Police Chief Joe Hall said, and the couple has since had more children together.

The raids nabbed drugs, stacks of cash as big as $16,000, and stolen guns.

And, Judd said, 28 of the 30 people picked up in the sweep were both selling drugs and getting some form of government assistance at the same time.

"Now is that not just enough to drive you out of your mind?," Judd asked at a news conference in Winter Haven announcing the arrests. "The hard-working taxpayers of this state are paying these people to sit at home and sell drugs. And it makes me crazy out of my mind."

Why were so many career criminals out of jail? Sheriff Judd blamed a system-wide and community-wide failure of not taking drug crimes seriously enough.

They're too often treated as a series of minor offenses -- instead of a pattern of community destruction, Judd said.

Nine more suspects have been identified from clues gathered in Thursday's raids, but haven't been caught. A joint task force watching over what's officially designated a "High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area" will now track them down.

Judd says the Polk County Sheriff's Office is also notifying the IRS and the government aid programs that have been funding these accused drug dealers, requesting they cut off payments to the people now behind bars.

Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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