Police Lure Drug Dealers to Town, Set Up Stings, Make Busts, and Keep Millions

A six-month investigation into the Sunrise, Florida PD reveals that setups targeted poor and Hispanics.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/wavebreakmedia

Fewer than 100,000 people live in the suburban town of Sunrise, Florida. Among them are members of the police force who, according to an investigative report by the local Sun Sentinel newspaper, have been cashing in big—on cocaine deals.

According to the article, which took six months of investigations to produce, underground police officers have been luring both drug dealers and drug users to town with the promise of special discounts, cars that include hidden compartments for easy trafficking, and offers of “cocaine on consignment.” The undercover officers even provide transportation to bring the dealers to Sunrise from places as far away as Canada and Peru.

“Police have paid one femme fatale informant more than $800,000 over the past five years for her success in drawing drug dealers into the city, records obtained by the newspaper show,” the article reports.

Why would the cops go to so much trouble to frame foreign criminals and addicts? They get to keep the money they confiscate in the busts.   

According to forfeiture laws at both the state and federal level, it is the right of police to seize and keep “ill-gotten gains related to criminal activities.”  

So, the police have been raking in millions of dollars in busted cocaine purchases, and merchandise such as the cars driven to the site of the drug deal.

Apparently, forfeiture funds brought close to $4 million to the city of Sunrise in 2011, and $2 million last year.

The officers have been using the drug bust money for “huge overtime payments for the undercover officers who conduct the drug stings and cash rewards for the confidential informants who help detectives entice faraway buyers,” the Sun Sentinel article reports.

Sunrise police have arrested at least 190 people on cocaine trafficking charges since 2009, which the article points out is "more than any other municipality in the county and nearly twice the number of the only police agency that comes close, Fort Lauderdale. Only seven of those arrested by Sunrise lived in the city."

Sunrise police are not just busting dealers in their setups. The Sun Sentinel obtained police affidavits, depositions, court filings and other documents to reveal that the arrests of more than 100 people in the last five years for coke purchase set-ups, in which undercover cops posed as dealers. Those bust brought in almost $3 million in cash, in addition to vehicles and electronics. The article notes that just two of the many convictions led to a Florida state 15-year mandatory minimum cocaine trafficking sentence. 

John Gallagher, chief of the drug trafficking unit for the Florida State Attorney's Office, told the Sun Sentinel: 

“It’s always hard to deal with cases where the police are posing as drug sellers instead of drug buyers,” said Gallagher. “They’re legally allowed to do it. But jurors have a hard time grasping it.”

Targeting Poor Hispanics

The "overwhelming majority" of those arrested in the Sunrise stings are Hispanic, the Sun Sentinel found.

Kevin Kulik, a defense attorney from Broward, Florida, told the Sun Sentinel that Sunrise informants “tend to go after people who they know are in financial distress and they offer them a deal that they can’t resist. They offer them the deal of a lifetime.”

Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, told the Sun Sentinel that ensnaring drug users of predominantly one minority group could mean expensive civil rights lawsuits for the city.

"This is a lousy way to fund a police department,” Simon told the Sun Sentinel.

Defense attorneys also told the Sun Sentinel that the stings "have swept up people who are not in the drug trade but are down on their luck, persuaded by informants to do a deal to earn fast money in hard times."

Following the local paper's investigation, the Sunrise police department announced it would stop organizing the controversial cocaine stings. 

The complete report is available on the Sun Sentinel website

April M. Short is a yoga teacher and writer who previously worked as AlterNet's drugs and health editor. She currently edits part-time for AlterNet, and freelances for a number of publications nationwide.

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