SARASOTA — A long-term undercover investigation called “Operation Ice Mama” ended with the arrests of 16 people for drug and weapons charges.
The top of the chain, according to investigators, is Jennifer Lambert, 44, of Venice.
Lambert, known as “Mama Jen,” was eyed as a mid-level leader of the sale and distribution of methamphetamine in the Nokomis area after the investigation was launched in October 2018.
Authorities said she has been arrested for drugs dating back to 2013 and “has been a person of interest related to drug trafficking for more than a decade,” according to a news release.
Sheriff Tom Knight held a news conference Thursday morning talking about Lambert, other mid-level dealers, and what he believes is the current crisis for authorities.
“The emergency now is methamphetamine,” he said. It’s coming from Mexico where “the cartels are manufacturing it like crazy.”
“All joking aside, this is like the Walter White meth from ‘Breaking Bad.’ This is high-quality stuff,” Knight said.
While pill mills and heroin are still issues, meth is the biggest fight authorities are involved in right now in Sarasota County.
“The simple fact is cost. The price of the meth has gone down,” Knight said. “You can see the re-emergence of meth in our state is very real.”
He said meth has gone down from $1,100 an ounce to about $400 an ounce in recent years with 48 deaths last year in Sarasota County linked, in part, to meth.
Knight said his office wants to help those addicted to the drug.
“This agency has a ton of empathy for the addicts,” he said, noting the jail works to assist them with recovery programs. “They are collateral damage. We’re trying to make them healthy.”
Lambert is a considered a mid-level supplier, Knight said.
“She’s a bright woman,” he said, joking if she was in a legal business, she would “be very successful. ... She’s very cautious about everything she did,” Knight said.
A news release said the investigation connected Lambert to seven individual drug transactions and the Special Investigation Section “worked to identify Lambert’s associates and others who may be involved in her network.”
People from throughout the area would be netted in the investigation, including residents of North Port, Sarasota and Osprey.
Knight said those charged all face minimum mandatory sentence of seven years on drug offenses if found guilty.
The Sheriff’s Office said in its news release that, during Operation Ice Mama, it eventually identified and arrested what it calls “Lambert’s counterparts ... mid-level dealers.” They included Randy Greene, 48, of Nokomis; Erik Walker, 38, of Venice and Robert Cain, 35, of Sarasota.
Cain has a long list of arrests, with 29 previous arrests in Sarasota County, including grand theft burglary and reckless driving.
“Combined, the 16 people arrested during Operation Ice Mama have 156 prior felony charges with 49 convictions and 149 prior misdemeanor charges with 72 convictions,” the news release states.The following individuals were charged:
• Jennifer Lambert, 44, Nokomis. Charges: one count of trafficking in methamphetamine and seven counts of conspiracy to traffic in methamphetamine.
• Randy Greene, 48, Nokomis. Charges: one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, one count of possession of ammunition by a convicted felon, one count of possession of a controlled substance, one count of destruction of evidence, one count of trafficking in methamphetamine and seven counts of conspiracy to traffic in methamphetamine.
• Robert Cain, 35, Sarasota. Charges: one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, one count of trafficking in methamphetamine, two counts of possession of a controlled substance and four counts of conspiracy to traffic in methamphetamine.
• Robert McMullen, 56, Sarasota. Charge: one count of purchase of methamphetamine.
• Scott Hill, 58, Nokomis. Charge: one count of conspiracy to traffic in methamphetamine.
• Patricia Greene, 53, Nokomis. Charge: one count of principal to trafficking in methamphetamine.
• Erik Walker, 38, Venice. Charges: one count of fleeing to elude, one count of possession of marijuana, one count of possession of drug paraphernalia and three counts of conspiracy to traffic in methamphetamine.
• Jimalee Willis, 39, Nokomis. Charge: one count of sale of methamphetamine.
• Joseph Hochberg, 27, Sarasota. Charge: one count of conspiracy to traffic in methamphetamine.
• Walter “Ricky” Lint Jr., 52, Nokomis. Charges: two counts of conspiracy to traffic in methamphetamine.
• William Williams, 40, Bokeelia. Charge: one count of conspiracy to traffic in methamphetamine.
• Bobbi Jo Whiting, 50, Nokomis. Charges: two counts of conspiracy to traffic in methamphetamine.
• Casey Ross, 32, North Port. Charge: one count of conspiracy to traffic in methamphetamine.
• Drew Tilson, 29, Nokomis. Charges: two counts of sale of methamphetamine and one count of unlawful use of a two-way communication device.
• Heather Johnson, 33, Venice. Charges: two counts of sale of methamphetamine and one count of unlawful use of a two-way communication device.
• Ronda Gibson, 56, Osprey. Charges: one count of trafficking in methamphetamine, one count of possession of a vehicle known to traffic drugs and five counts of drug possession.
Operation Ice Mama ended with 287.82 grams of methamphetamine, two firearms and various illicit drugs was seized, according to the investigators.
Knight called it one of the agency’s most significant methamphetamine seizures to date.
“As for the dealers and suppliers, let Operation Ice Mama serve as a reminder that we don’t tolerate drug operations, dealer networks or guns in the wrong hands,” he said in the news release. “To that end, if you are in the business of dealing or supplying methamphetamine, know that we will identify you, we will disrupt your network and we will make sure you end up behind bars.”
At the news conference, he emphasized the work continues but it will target those who prey upon the addicted.
“This is not done. We will get the message out to the dealers. We’re after the dealers, the addicts are collateral damage. Those are the people in our jails that we are trying to get healthy. ... We’re not done. We’ve got a lot of intelligence and we’re moving forward,” Knight said.