Drug trafficking near UNF: “Operation Cash Flow” bust


Photo by Camille Shaw

Sam Chaney

The St. John’s Town Center near UNF gets plenty of foot traffic between local families and the nearby college students, but recently the shopping plaza has also seen a different, more illegal form of traffic.

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams announced on Jan. 26 that about $1 million worth of cocaine and fentanyl-laced heroin were seized in a drug-bust operation called “Operation Cash Flow.” In addition to the heroin and cocaine, four pounds of marijuana, five vehicles, five guns and more than $100,000 in cash were also reportedly found and seized.

Court documents revealed how one of the chosen trafficking locations was the Dillard’s parking lot in St. John’s Town Center.

According to Gil Smith, the crime and safety analyst for News4Jax, drug dealers may often choose to meet in nicer parts of town because they are not areas that are frequently patrolled by police or associated with crime.

Officials arrested 12 suspected drug traffickers for involvement, and there are still outstanding warrants for Bernard Brown and Wayne Norman. Both are charged with felonies similar to the men already under arrest.

The investigation began in May of 2017, and was a multi-agency effort bringing together the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Highway Patrol, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and others.

Williams noted how the heroin involved was the driving force behind many of the deaths in Jacksonville that were opioid-overdoses, and how the seizure “took about 20,000 individual doses of lethal heroin off the streets.”

In 2017, there was a heroin related overdose that occured on UNF campus, showing how the drug problem may hit closer to home than students expect. 

On July 31, 2017, UNFPD and the Jacksonville Fire Rescue Station 50 were dispatched to The Fountains when a student called for help for another student who had overdosed.

The report states officials found the student “unresponsive, sweating profusely and in need of medical attention.” Rescue 50 took the student to Baptist Town Center for further treatment.

According to the three other students involved, they witnessed the male student use a syringe to shoot up heroin before “his head fell back, his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he began gasping for air.”

The students reportedly attempted to rouse him by dumping water on him and placing him in a shower. The report states that the student remained in this state for 20 minutes before a call was finally placed for medical aid.

Later that year on Sept. 17, UNF student Ryan McCall was arrested for tampering with evidence involved in the incident.

The police report states the students attempted to remove the drug evidence prior to officials showing up, and McCall was caught on video carrying a backpack out of the building. Upon being found in McCall’s car, officials discovered the backpack reportedly contained additional heroin and cocaine.

Officials seized a total of 1.2 grams of heroin, 1.4 grams of marijuana, 1.3 grams of antidepressant pills and other forms of paraphernalia.

According to the police report, the used syringe was never located and the students denied knowing its location or how it was removed.

Spinnaker reached out to the student to check on his status following his overdose, but no comment was received at the time of publication.

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