SEBRING - When two suspected members of a major drug ring were accused of shooting two deputy marshals executing an arrest warrant, that may only the tip of the iceberg regarding the violence connected with them and other participants in the ring, authorities said Friday.
Capt. Randy LaBelle of the Highlands County Sheriff's Office said the drug ring is suspected of other violent crimes in Highlands County and elsewhere. He said he could not elaborate on specific incidents.
Members of the ring who are accused of possessing and selling thousands of kilograms of cocaine and ounces of crack in central Florida were generally known to be "armed and extremely dangerous," LaBelle said.
The shootings occurred when members of the U.S. Marshals Task Force executed a warrant off Sebring Parkway. Neither of the deputy marshals received life-threatening injuries.
The goal was to arrest six people Wednesday, but only five suspected members of the drug ring were located. On Thursday, Nikki Sharday Bennett, 27, the remaining suspect, was arrested without incident in the Sun 'N Lakes area. Bennett was expected to be transported to Fort Pierce, where she would face federal charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. If convicted, Bennett and the other suspects could face up to life in prison.
"I think it will have a significant effect," LaBelle said about the effect of the arrests on the drug trade involving cocaine in the central Florida. He said he can't remember a more significant bust involving cocaine in recent history in Highlands County.
LaBelle said he believes the drug ring has operated for a few years. But authorities didn't have enough evidence to make the arrests, he said.
Eventually, he said, the odds favor the authorities.
"They have to be right 100 percent of the time (to avoid being caught) and we only have to be right once," he said.
This was the one time, he said, adding that he couldn't be more proud of those involved in putting together the plan and then carrying it out, he said.
Many of those arrested had relatively minor arrest records, but LaBelle said that doesn't surprise him. At the mid and upper levels of drug dealers, they often have someone to carry out a lot of their crimes, LaBelle said.
Besides Bennett, authorities arrested Robin Jean Guillaume, 29, and Alex Guerrier, 29, both of Sebring and both suspected of the shootings. They also arrested Alphonsia Joycelyn Maxime, 23, Cleophas A. Brown, 43, and Gibson LaPointe, 27, all of Avon Park.
LaPointe has previously been arrested on charges of possession of a controlled substance without a prescription, driving while license suspended, possession of drug paraphernalia, criminal mischief, violation of probation, battery, aggravated stalking, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, aggravated assault, assault on a law enforcement officer, use of a two-way communication device to commit a felony and possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell or deliver.
Brown's previous arrests were for charges that included failure to appear on a charge of driving while license suspended or revoked and driving while license suspended or revoked.
Guillame was previously arrested on charges of possession of cocaine, possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, violation of probation and failure to appear in court.
Guerrier was arrested on charges of violation of probation, driving while license suspended or revoked, grand theft of a vehicle, criminal mischief, trespass and burglary.
Bennett has been charged with petit theft.