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33 gang members nabbed in Hillsborough drug operation

TAMPA - The tractor-trailer was hauling avocados, limes, green peppers and cilantro from Texas when it was pulled over on Interstate 75 in Hillsborough County.

But the produce was only there to mask the smell of the hidden narcotics, investigators said.

The ploy didn't fool a drug-sniffing dog.

The drug seizure came toward the tail end of a nearly two-year undercover operation into gang-related drug activity in the Progress Village and Palm River areas of eastern Hillsborough.

The operation, which began after residents spoke out against gang activity, has led to federal indictments of 33 gang members, and dozens more are expected to be charged, the sheriff's office announced today.

"This is making our community a better place to live," resident Mary Jones said.

Investigators say they have seized about 40 kilograms of cocaine, 1,200 pounds of marijuana and a half-kilogram of crack cocaine. The drugs are valued at $2.5 million.

Also seized were 13 vehicles, watercraft, trailers, several guns and $600,000, deputies said.

Operation Under Pressure began in December 2008. Undercover detectives participated in drug deals with gang members and learned there was "a gang hierarchy and criminal organization who were importing millions of dollars worth of narcotics into the United States via Mexico," the sheriff's office said.

Deputies said four local gangs were involved: Latin Life; Progress Village Boys; Palm River Boys; and 8-Deuce Click (58th Street Boys).

Marijuana and cocaine came from Mexico to Texas and was transported on trailers to Hillsborough, investigators said. The cocaine was converted to crack cocaine and distributed in Progress Village and Palm River.

Sometimes drugs were delivered weekly, and investigators believe some shipments included roughly 100 kilos of cocaine, sheriff's Chief Deputy Jose Docobo said.

Deputies identified the head of the drug ring as Victor Orozco, a 22-year-old college student in Texas. He faces cocaine charges.

The U.S. Attorney's Office and the Drug Enforcement Administration also were involved in the investigation.

Ola Lott, coordinator for the Green Ridge & Delaney Creek Estates Neighborhood Crime Watch Association, said there's less drug activity in the neighborhood since the operation began.

"You've got to have someone besides God to watch your back," she said. "It's an awesome thing to know someone has your back."...

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