HCSO makes major bust near Gibsonton Elementary

Published on: January 23, 2013

Mitch Traphagen Photo

Mitch Traphagen Photo

Sheriff David Gee announced on January 15, the conclusion of “Operation Cease Fire” — a six month-long operation, ending in a wave of arrests of convicted felons who sold guns and drugs across the street from Gibsonton Elementary School.

In July 2012, a confidential tip led investigators to a consignment store located at 7724 Gibsonton Drive — a store that was once a flower shop. In most cases, a tip about drugs will lead HCSO undercover detectives to illegal guns and violent felons with guns as well, and this case was no exception. In this operation, however, the undercover drug and gun transactions took place less than 175 feet away from an elementary school. Most of the transactions took place after school hours.

During the course of the investigation, undercover detectives made drug and gun transactions with the suspects inside this consignment shop. Our detectives put their lives on the line, knowing they were dealing with dangerous, armed felons. In one instance, a detective encountered unexpected gunfire when a suspect spontaneously fired his gun into the ground to demonstrate the effectiveness of a silencer.

“Operation Cease Fire” resulted in the arrests of 10 people and the arrest warrants of three others. Deputies are still on the hunt for those three at-large suspects. Ten are convicted felons who sold 34 firearms and 49 silencers to undercover detectives. The guns removed from the streets include an AR-15, AK-47 style rifle, 22 caliber rifle with silencer, sawed-off shotguns, and sniper-type rifles with night vision. Detectives also purchased trafficking amounts of narcotic prescription drugs, crack cocaine, and methamphetamine. The fact that detectives busted a criminal enterprise next to an elementary school will translate to enhanced charges for some of the suspects involved.

The detectives who targeted these suspects work in a specialized gun squad out of HCSO’s Special Investigations Division. The group focuses solely on crimes involving guns and felons in possession of firearms. Last year alone, these detectives bought 52 guns from 41 felons during undercover operations. Specialized undercover operations are just one part of the effort in getting guns out of the wrong hands. Last year, HCSO arrested 118 felons in possession of a firearm, and 80 people for unlawfully carrying concealed firearms. Deputies impounded more than 1500 guns as evidence in some type of crime in 2012. The Sheriff’s Office also plans to host a gun buyback program in five locations next month.

Arrested were Laavi Aguilar, 25, William Kiser, 28, David Lundgren, 34, Danny Ray York, 28, Robert Hammond, 43, Melissa Wright, 34, Gene Wayne Johnston, 29, Sharrod Tolliver, 40, Delores Bodden, 40, and Brian Du Bien, 46.

Arrest warrants have been issued for Michael Allen Fox, 49, Edwina Hampton, 53, and Amberlie Jones, 22.