HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Bradenton Meth Operation On Thin Ice
Pubdate: Sat, 19 Jan 2008
Source: Bradenton Herald (FL)
Copyright: 2008 Bradenton Herald
Author: Beth Burger
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


BRADENTON -- A meth operation that netted 19 people on drug charges 
might not be held up in court.

Out of the 19 people who were originally arrested in late September, 
at least five had their charges dropped at the state level.

Lisa Chittaro, assistant state attorney for the State Attorney's 
Office, said there needed to be independent evidence of conspiracy 
outside of the telephone conversations intercepted by Bradenton 
Police Department.

"You need more than just words among co-defendants," Chittaro said. 
As an example, she said officers may need an undercover investigator 
to make a deal.

The cases are dropped unless there is any additional information to 
re-evaluate the decision, she said.

Bradenton Police Department Maj. William Tokajer said the bust was 
made with sufficient evidence.

"Just because the state feels there is not evidence to convict them 
doesn't mean there is not enough evidence to arrest or prosecute 
them," he said. "We would like to have the opportunity for a jury to 
decide, but it's up to the state to make that decision."

The sweep, called Operation Broken Ice, resulted in the confiscation 
of dozens of bags of meth and cocaine, weapons, ammunition and a 
large marijuana plant. Investigators from the Bradenton Police, 
Manatee County Sheriff's Office and Drug Enforcement Administration 
seized 32 pounds of meth - $575,000 in street value.

The investigation began December 2006.

The bust was intended to curtail meth sales and manufacturing from 
becoming widespread in Manatee County, officials said at the time.

Three leaders of the meth ring, a mother and two sons, were arrested 
at the time. The mother, Andrea Zarabia- Mindueno, 44, of Bradenton, 
had her charges dropped by the state. She was charged with conspiracy 
to traffic meth and conspiracy to traffic cocaine.

Her sons, Rogelio Velez, 26, and Ricardo Velez, 19, have not had 
their charges dropped.

Rogelio Velez still has an active court case. He was charged with 
conspiracy to purchase a controlled substance, conspiracy to commit 
an armed robbery, conspiracy to traffic meth and possession of 
marijuana. Ricardo Velez pleaded no contest Dec. 11, according to the 
state. He was charged with conspiracy to commit an armed robbery, 
conspiracy to traffic cocaine and conspiracy to sell rock cocaine.

Investigators recorded hundreds of calls in which Rogelio Velez and 
his mother discussed selling and using drugs, prices and clients.

Zarabia-Mindueno allegedly obtained meth smuggled from Mexico through 
Texas to Atlanta. She reportedly would give the meth to her sons to 
sell to street level dealers.

Leonel Tribilant, 37, of Bradenton had been charged with conspiracy 
to traffic cocaine, conspiracy to sell rock cocaine and conspiracy to 
sell marijuana. Police had intercepted conversations between him and 
Rogelio Velez.

His charges were dropped Jan. 15.

"There's much more to conspiracy than just a phone call," his 
attorney, Charles Britt, said. "When you start looking at drug 
conspiracy and wire-intercepted calls, it has to be more than Johnny 
calling Sue saying, 'I want to get a couple of tires.'"

Investigators maintained they intercepted calls of defendants talking 
in code at times, Britt said.

"Two tires means a kilo. Well how do they know that? I've got 10 
years of police experience too and I've never heard of that before. 
Without some type of corroboration, there's nothing there."

Tokajer said the bust went farther than simple phone calls.

"When you have someone who says they are going to buy some cocaine 
and then goes to buy cocaine and goes to the location and has money, 
that's more than just going out on a whim and saying, 'I'm going to 
buy buy cocaine,'" he said.

Bradenton Police Department began an appeal process on the dropped 
cases two weeks ago, Tokajer said.

"Sometimes they agree with us. Sometimes they disagree," Tokajer 
said. "There was a lot of hard work that went into this. We believe 
they are solid cases and (law enforcement) did their job to make good 
probable-cause arrests."

Britt thinks the state will drop more cases.

"When you do these wire tap cases, it cannot be solely based on phone 
calls," he said. "Unfortunately for the police, that's where it stopped."



Out of the 19 people arrested in Operation Broken Ice on Sept. 26, 
investigators described 14 as the main players in a meth ring. 
Charges included trafficking in methamphetamine, conspiracy to 
manufacture meth, conspiracy to traffic rock cocaine, and conspiracy 
to commit armed robbery.

Cases dropped: 6

Cases expected to go to trial: 2

No contest pleas: 2

Cases pending: 4

SOURCE: State Attorney's Office 
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