State Attorney General Pam Bondi joined Sheriff Al Nienhuis on Friday Feb. 3, 2017 in a press conference discussing the details of what Sheriff Nienhuis referred to as the largest heroin bust Hernando County has ever seen. Senator Wilton Simpson was also in attendance.
After thanking the Sheriff's Office and undercover deputies involved in the investigation, Bondi took exception to the name and image of President Donald Trump branded on the tiny packages of heroin, about the size of a postage stamp. Picking up one of the Donald Trump imprinted packages and flashing it in front of news cameras, Bondi stated, "So, all I want to say to this drug dealer: Big mistake by putting the President's picture on this. Big Mistake. Because he is going to be our most fierce advocate in taking this junk off of our streets. And I'm going to make sure he gets one of these packages when this case is all over, to put in the Oval Office to remind him of all the good he's doing."
The names and images of El Chapo and Pablo Escobar were also depicted on the individual packages.
The heroin bust included two separate shipments totaling over three pounds of heroin or 5550 doses. The United States Postal Service alerted authorities to a package destined to Hernando County containing 550 doses of heroin in May of 2016. The rest of the over 3 pounds seized was intercepted at a later date. The packages were destined for different areas of Spring Hill the Sheriff said. The street value, explained Sheriff Nienhuis could be anywhere from $5500 - $11,000. He said that each postage stamp sized packet would sell for $10-$20 on the street.
The Florida Highway Patrol and the State Attorney's Office were involved in the investigation.
Sheriff Nienhuis explained that the suspect, Kevin Scott Johnson, drove to the Northeast US to purchase the heroin and ship it down to Hernando County to different areas of Spring Hill. Johnson has a long rap sheet here in Florida with 13 felony arrests since 1994. Twelve of these arrests resulted in convictions. Before Florida dating back to 1989, Sheriff Nienhuis explained, "He has a New Jersey criminal history, involving dangerous drugs, particularly heroin."
He was arrested on Fri. Feb. 3, while on a return trip from the Northeast, where he again purchased drugs. He was stopped by deputies in the Hill 'n Dale area on SR 50 near the interstate. K9 Diesel took part in the traffic stop and in getting possession of the packages. At his arrest, Johnson was found to be in possession of cocaine.
The drug bust is unusual for Hernando, as methamphetamine is a more prominent problem within the county. Sheriff Nienhuis explained that southeast Florida has a more active heroin problem. Despite this, the heroin bust could be one of the largest in the Tampa Bay area according to the DEA said Sheriff Nienhuis.
Bondi and Sheriff Nienhuis emphasized that heroin has become much more mainstream and accessible. There are multiple forms of the drug, it is no longer limited to intravenous usage. Bondi stated that each of the 5500 plus packages represents a life that could be lost. She explained that often heroin is mixed with fentanyl or U47700 (another synthetic drug) which makes the concoction many times more deadly. Pointing to the packets she explained, "They are not just selling it this way, they are putting it in pill form. They are putting it in xanax pill presses..." She also believes they are using adderall pill presses because it is the drug of choice among college kids, but it hasn't been proven yet. She referred to 5 cases in Pinellas county where individuals who had thought they had bought a xanax pill off the street each dropped dead because it was actually loaded with heroin, fentanyl and other ''highly lethal synthetics." "If you are a first time user, it could kill you, it could stop your heart immediately," said Bondi.
Sheriff Nienhuis estimated that potentially 1 in 100 of those seized packets may have gone to first time users.
Johnson is charged with trafficking in heroin, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, possession and sale of heroin, unlawful use of a two way communication device and habitual driving with a suspended driver's license (2 cts). His bail was set at $75,000. Johnson is looking at a mandatory minimum of 15 years or mandatory minimum of 25 years behind bars depending on FDLE's drug weight determination.
State Attorney Brad King will be prosecuting the case. Bondi mentioned that State Attorney King and herself will be speaking to the legislature about getting another medical examiner for the Hernando County Sheriff's Office to keep up with all the drug overdose deaths that are happening here.
"Parents… please you can save a life. You got to talk to your kids. If you're in college, if you're in your twenties, buying something that you don't know what it is, it could have this poison in it… and you could die instantly from it," said Bondi.
"This isn't the old heroin in a back corner with a liquid and needle that you're shooting up in your arm… this is everywhere. It has become mainstream sadly."