On January 26th, 2018, barely one month into the New Year, the community of St. Lucie County witnessed one of the biggest drug busts in Florida’s recent history. Operation Big Mi-Steak, a lengthy joint-effort investigation by local law enforcement and several government agencies, saw to the takedown of dozens at a Steak ‘n Shake located off Okeechobee Road. It was here that authorities discovered a small group of drug dealers distributing a variety of illicit substances to their customers under the guise of regular restaurant operations. A total of 42 people, including 15 drug dealers, were arrested.
The St. Lucie Sheriff’s Department’s Response to Spike in Overdose Deaths
The investigation that resulted in this massive drug bust unofficially began more than two years ago, when the St. Lucie Sheriff’s Department experienced a significant spike in emergency calls for overdose victims. Around this time, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that the number of overdose deaths nationwide leaped from 29,000 in 2005 to more than 63,600 in 2016. Additionally, more than 20,000 of these deaths were the result of opioid addiction.
Sheldon Burkett— the resident agent in charge of the DEA’s St. Lucie office location— firmly believes that Florida’s rate of overdose deaths is at an all-time high. Sheriff Ken J. Mascara of St. Lucie shares Burkett’s concerns, and together they restructured their methods of handling local overdoses. When discussing the department’s changes, Mascara went on record as saying:
“When the heroin epidemic began to infiltrate our community back in mid-2016, we changed our strategy in responding to an overdose. We began sending narcotics detectives to each overdose, interviewing the victim and others that might have observed what happened.”
New Protocol and Strategies
Under Mascara’s new overdose protocol, narcotics detectives could do more than cracking down on drug dealers. Additionally, they (and other first responders) are required to carry overdose-reversing medications and provide help to users who are willing to cooperate and want to get sober. These new strategies for handling overdose cases were adopted by other Treasure Coast police stations as well. Now, sending narcotics detectives to respond to overdose calls and equipping first responders with reversal agents like naloxone has become something of a standard for most Floridian law enforcement agencies.
In Mascara’s department, these changes eventually led to a mountain of collected information and evidence that pointed to an under-wraps drug dealing operation within St. Lucie. The sheriff’s connections with the local DEA office and other federal agency partners provided enough resources and workforce to form a new drug dealer hunt, which was named Operation Big Mi-Steak after the discovery that the dealing took place at a Steak ‘n Shake.
The Four Leading Drug Dealers
During the investigation, Sheriff Mascara and his team identified four people connected through domestic relationships as the primary dealers in the illegal drug trade: Cybil Green, her boyfriend Johnny Lewis, her son Rodney Stevens, and Stevens’ girlfriend, Latoya Felder. The Sheriff’s Office determined that Green was using her position as the Steak ‘n Shake manager at the St. Lucie restaurant location to distribute drugs to buyers posing as customers.
Also, Sheriff’s Detective Andrew Bolonka revealed that the investigators of the Big Mi-Steak operation gathered irrefutable evidence that Green was using her teenaged children to package and distribute the drugs she was dealing. There was also evidence to suggest that Green only dealt with people she knew.
Together with agents from the FBI, DEA, ATF and even Homeland Security, Sheriff Mascara formed Operation Big Mi-Steak, named for the restaurant that served as the headquarters of the drug trade. He and his team arrested all four confirmed suspects along with dozens of others.
The Confiscations of Operation Big Mi-Steak
After a seven-month long investigation and a total of 12 search warrants, Operation Big Mi-Steak finally resulted in the arrest 42 criminals. The charges brought up against these 42 people range from possession of drug paraphernalia to distribution of illicit substances. The Sheriff’s Office confiscated the following items during the mass arrest:
- Xanax pills
- THC oil
- Cannabis oil
- MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly)
- Crack cocaine
- Crystal meth
- Marijuana plants
In addition to these various drugs, the sheriff’s department seized a total of 25 firearms. Sheriff Mascara announced that the crime lab is processing these weapons to see if they have any connection to other crimes in the surrounding area.
The Aftermath of the Drug Bust
The drugs that authorities confiscated during this bust are some of the most potent both on the street and over the counter. According to the DEA, fentanyl, a synthetic opioid painkiller, is about 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Carfentanyl is even more dangerous with 100 times more potency than fentanyl— even two milligrams can be deadly.
Since the arrests following Operation Big Mi-Steak, the St. Lucie Sheriff’s Office reports a notable decline in drug overdoses countywide.
Outpatient Services at The Treatment Center in Palm Beach County
Drug addiction is a disease that has been plaguing South Florida for far too long. The steps by law enforcement addressing the suppliers of drugs are just one part of the process of limiting addiction. Restraining access to drugs must also involve offering safe alternatives or treatment options for those addicted. Individualized treatment programs for addiction are much-needed service for our community. The good news is that, like any other disease, addiction can be treated. If you are struggling with addiction, call The Treatment Center. Our team has been helping patients conquer addiction since its establishment in 2009 and has an outpatient services center conveniently located in the neighboring county of Palm Beach. If you or someone you know needs help conquering addiction, please call us at (844) 211-7944.