Cops. Cash. Cocaine. How Sunrise police make millions selling drugs.By Megan O'Matz and John Maines
Photos and videos by Susan Stocker
Oct. 08, 2013
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SUNRISE — Police in this suburban town best known for its sprawling outlet mall have hit upon a surefire way to make millions. They sell cocaine.
Undercover detectives and their army of informants lure big-money drug buyers into the city from across the United States, and from as far north as Canada and as far south as Peru. They negotiate the sale of kilos of cocaine in popular family restaurants, then bust the buyers and seize their cash and cars.
Police confiscate millions from these deals, money that fuels huge overtime payments for the undercover officers who conduct the drug stings and cash rewards for the confidential informants who help detectives entice faraway buyers, a six-month Sun Sentinel investigation found.
Police have paid one femme fatale informant more than $800,000 over the past five years for her success in drawing drug dealers into the city, records obtained by the newspaper show.
Undercover officers tempt these distant buyers with special discounts, even offering cocaine on consignment and the keys to cars with hidden compartments for easy transport. In some deals, they’ve provided rides and directions to these strangers to Sunrise.
This being western Broward County, not South Beach, the drama doesn’t unfold against a backdrop of fast boats, thumping nightclubs or Art Deco hotels.
It’s absurdly suburban.
Many of the drug negotiations and busts have taken place at restaurants around the city’s main attraction, Sawgrass Mills mall, including such everyday dining spots as TGI Fridays, Panera Bread and the Don Pan International Bakery.
Why would police bring criminals to town?
Under long-standing state and federal forfeiture laws, police can seize and keep ill-gotten gains related to criminal activities, such as the money a buyer brings to purchase cocaine and the car driven to the deal.
Sunrise is hauling in three times as much forfeited cash as any other city in Broward and Palm Beach counties, the Sun Sentinel found. Last year, the city raked in $2 million in state and federal forfeiture funds. The year before, in 2011, the figure was twice that — nearly $4 million.
Police generate much of their forfeiture money through reverse stings. The reverse sting, in which the police pose not as buyers, but as suppliers of cocaine, is a legitimate tool used by numerous law enforcement agencies.