Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight during a news conference Thursday announced the results of a six-month-long undercover investigation that yielded significant quantities of methamphetamine and thousands of dollars in cash.
Detectives launched their investigation in October 2017 when they connected 43-year-old Brian Tharp with obtaining and distributing large amounts of meth. Over the course of approximately six months, Special Investigation Section detectives worked to identify Tharp’s associates and others who may be involved within his network.
On February 11, deputies conducted a traffic stop in which 53-year-old Garry McLeod was taken into custody. After discovering drug paraphernalia in the vehicle, McLeod agreed to a search where deputies recovered nearly 24 grams of meth hidden inside his shoe. McLeod was arrested and charged with Trafficking in Methamphetamine.
On March 15, detectives received information that 26-year-old Dylan Woodward was selling drugs out of a hotel room in North Port. A search warrant was executed where detectives located more than 170 grams of meth, oxycodone pills, various drug paraphernalia, and $740 in cash. Woodward was arrested and charged with Trafficking in Methamphetamine and Possession of a Controlled Substance.
On May 18, detectives arrested 45-year-old Kevin Preston on a warrant after he provided meth that was sold to undercover detectives in January. At the time of his arrest during a search of his vehicle, detectives recovered an additional 87 grams of meth, 58 grams of cannabis, and 10 prescription pills. Preston was subsequently charged with Trafficking in Methamphetamine, Possession of Cannabis and Possession of a Controlled Substance.
On May 19, detectives continuing their investigation into Tharp, executed search warrants at his home in the 300 block of N. Jackson Road in Venice as well as his storage unit. The investigation yielded more than eight pounds of meth, $163,000 in cash, nearly 400 grams of cannabis, 67 prescription pills, and a semiautomatic handgun.
Both Tharp and his 25-year-old girlfriend Carley Poettker were arrested and charged with Trafficking in Methamphetamine. Tharp also faces a single count of Possession of Alprazolam with additional charges pending. He remains in custody today on $501,500 bond while Poettker remains in custody on $500,000 bond. Kevin Preston, Garry McLeod, and Dylan Woodward have all been released.
Combined, the five arrestees have 84 prior felony charges with 20 convictions and 67 prior misdemeanor charges with 22 convictions. Significant prior charges include Fleeing to Elude, Possession of Synthetic Narcotics with Intent to Sell, Obstruction, Aggravated Battery, and more.
During this operation, a total of 8.49 pounds (3,849 grams) of methamphetamine and 454.6 grams of cannabis were seized. According to Sheriff Tom Knight, this is one of the largest methamphetamine seizures to date. “There is an ebb and flow when it comes to illicit drugs and it’s something we see nationwide. While we were strongly vocalizing our concerns with heroin and fentanyl around this same time last year, we are now seeing meth in large quantities and it’s something this community needs to be made aware of. This operation not only took drugs and weapons off the street but it also disrupted one of the most significant distribution networks in Sarasota County. The results of this operation are something this community should be very proud of.”
Operation Night Train was conducted with assistance from the Office of the Attorney General’s Office and members of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).