WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - Polk County detectives had their eye on dating apps, monitoring the sale of illegal drugs in an undercover operation that led to dozens of arrests.
The sting lasted about six months. Detectives said they also obtained warrants for 8 people who are still at large.
Officials said they began their undercover investigation after receiving a tip from Heartland Crime Stoppers that people were selling drugs on the mobile dating apps Grindr, Scruff and Taimi.
Sheriff Grady Judd said the suspects would use certain code words and emojis in their profiles. Once someone would "swipe left," they would message and offer to sell drugs, which investigators said mainly involved meth but also included cocaine, Ecstasy, LSD, fentanyl and marijuana.
"No one hit us up for a date, it was all about selling drugs," Judd said. "It was a shock to us, they were openly advertising."
The sheriff displayed a large binder, showing the lengthy criminal histories of the suspects involved in the case. Altogether, the suspects have 908 previous charges, including 453 prior felonies and 455 prior misdemeanors.
"When they're brazen enough to have a criminal history like that and openly sell drugs on an app that anybody – to include children – can have access to, that's a problem," he said. "It's the first time we've ever done an investigation like this. They were totally bold."
Detectives filed 159 felony and 72 misdemeanor charges in total against the suspects during the investigation. In all, 14 firearms were seized, two of which had been reported as stolen. Undercover investigators purchased approximately 280 grams of meth, with a street value of around $14,000; 3 grams of cocaine; 130 Ecstacy pills; 1.5 grams of Fentanyl/heroin; 1 gram of LSD; 28 grams of psychedelic mushrooms; and 645 grams of marijuana.