RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A historic undercover fentanyl bust in Florida has close ties to Raleigh and Harnett County, according to officials Friday in Polk County, Florida.
A task force made the bust and three people — including two from the central North Carolina area — were arrested, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office announced Friday.
The 11 pounds of fentanyl that were seized is the largest in the history of Polk County, a news release from Polk County officials said. Some of the fentanyl in the drug sting buys was hidden in a Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal box and a yellow Igloo cooler, officials said.
The ties to North Carolina in the sting operation were as recent as last week when a man who lives in Raleigh, Mario Alberto Castro Solache, 29, drove to Polk County, the news release said.
Castro Solache went down to Polk County on October 11 and met with undercover detectives to talk about a “multi-kilogram sale of fentanyl,” the news release said. A man named Pedro Mondragon, 27, from Lillington went with Castro Solache on the Florida trip, officials said.
“Castro Solache told detectives that he and the supplier in Mexico wanted to establish a portion of their drug trafficking organization in Polk County,” the news release said.
Mondragon and Castro Solache told detectives that they are being paid to collect money for the fentanyl drug dealer in Mexico, officials said.
The fentanyl was made in Mexico and sent into the United States to be made into synthetic pills and sold on the streets, officials said.
The whole operation, called Operation Hot Dirt, began last month when detectives learned that international drug traffickers were moving multi-kilograms of fentanyl from Mexico to Bradenton, Florida, and then into Polk County.
Initially, detectives arranged to buy fentanyl at $24,000 per kilo from an “unidentified source” in Mexico. The local dealer for the drug buy was identified as Ignacio Rodriguez, 28, of Bradenton, deputies said.
“Rodriguez confirmed that the source for the fentanyl in Mexico would only deal in large amounts (kilos) and explained that the price fluctuated based on the quality of the drug,” the news release said.
Later, on September 19, detectives agreed to buy $60,00 worth of fentanyl. Rodriguez showed up to the meeting in Polk County with five kilograms of fentanyl, deputies said.
“Two kilos of the fentanyl were concealed in a Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal box, and the remaining three kilos were concealed in a yellow Igloo cooler,” the news release said.
“Rodriguez warned the detectives to be careful or they might overdose; he recommended they wear a mask and gloves; he suggested that they drink milk before ingesting the drug to help with feelings of tightness in their chests,” deputies said in the news release.
Rodriguez also told detectives he could sell them marijuana, meth and cocaine, officials said.
Mondragon and Castro Solache were taken into custody on Oct. 12.
Castro Solache and Mondragon were both charged with conspiracy to traffic in fentanyl.
“(Castro Solache) is in the country illegally, and currently has a Border Patrol hold in the Polk County Jail. He entered the U.S. sometime after May,” the news release said.
Mondragon bonded out of jail on October 17, 2022, deputies said.
Rodriguez was taken into custody by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office on a Polk County warrant. He is charged with 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 October 15 after posting a $56,500 bond.
“Detectives learned during the investigation that the Mexican supplier of fentanyl needed the money from the drug sales to pay two different cartels: La Familia Michoacana and the Sinaloa Cartel,” the news release said.