City officials in Sunrise, FL blame a newspaper investigation for halting a program in which local police lured outsiders to town for high-dollar cocaine sales, making millions for the authorities in the process.
The Sun Sentinel published stories early this month detailing how the Sunrise Police Department’s narcotics unit made millions of dollars in recent years by setting up high-stakes cocaine buys with out-of-town buyers, some from thousands of miles away.
The Sentinel found nearly four out of every five suspects Sunrise police arrested since 2009 for cocaine trafficking listed home addresses outside of Broward County. Buyers would come to Sunrise for bargain prices and offers of cocaine on consignment.
To fuel the operation, the Sunrise Police Department (SPD) used a dozen undercover officers who made a total of $1.2mn in overtime over the three-and-a-half years the program existed.
One female informant was paid over $800,000 since 2008, helping the SPD set up 63 stings that netted at least $5mn in cash and assets, according to court records.
Despite a police program that brought criminals seeking bulk cocaine purchases to town, four out of five city commissioners, including Mayor Michael Ryan, voiced support for the program while shaming the The Sun Sentinel for curbing the busts. The fifth commissioner would not comment on the program because he is a defense attorney.
Ryan told the newspaper the public was never in danger, though many of the stings were set up to unfold near such public locations as parking lots and restaurants.
At a regular meeting of the Sunrise Commission on Tuesday, Commissioner Larry Sofield told Police Chief John Brooks, who has been silent on the matter since the stories were published, that he didn’t think Brooks was “doing anything illegally or immoral. I think you and your unit, people, have been doing a great job."
Sofield went on to chastise the newspaper, echoing the commission’s general attitude toward the published stories.
"I think you have done a great service to the community. Unfortunately I think it was the criminal community that you have done service to."
One mother of a teenager who often travels near one of the regular sites used for the stings said she was unhappy the city officials dont' see a problem with the program.
"I now have to worry that your ... police will be out guns blazing because of criminals they brought to our city?" she asked the mayor.
The Greater Sunrise Chamber of Commerce spoke out as a defender of the police department.
"We support the efforts of the Sunrise Police Department to arrest people who are trying to buy drugs to sell in communities, whether our community or others," said Michael Jacobs, executive director.