Dealers used dating apps to sell drugs, Polk County sheriff said; dozens indicted in sting operation – WSVN 7News | Miami News, Weather, Sports

(CNN) — After a six-month undercover investigation, Florida authorities have charged 68 people in connection with the sale of illegal narcotics on the mobile dating apps Grindr, Scruff and Taimi.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) said 60 people have been arrested and law enforcement has obtained arrest warrants for eight others, according to a news release.

The investigation, known as “Swipe Left for Meth,” began in July 2021 following a tip to Heartland Crime Stoppers, the statement said.

At a press conference on Thursday, Sheriff Grady Judd said dealers would use ice cream cone and birthday cake emojis to signal they were selling drugs along with code words like “party and “Tina,” which he said stood for crystal meth.

“It was a shock to us that they were openly advertising,” Judd said. “Can you believe this? They were openly advertising that they were selling drugs on a dating app.

Undercover narcotics sleuths created profiles on the apps and struck up conversations with sellers of meth, fentanyl, LSD, ecstasy, marijuana and cocaine, the statement said.

“It was clear during subsequent conversations and undercover drug purchases that the suspects’ primary purposes for being on the dating app were to sell drugs – not to find a date,” the statement read.

“Selling drugs or any illegal activity on Grindr is strictly prohibited as a violation of our Community Guidelines and Terms of Service. Our moderation team works hard every day to ban bad actors while maintaining privacy and safety of our users,” Bill Shafton, vice president of business and legal affairs at Grindr said in a statement provided to CNN.

“Taimi is a socially responsible company that strongly discourages and does its best to prevent any illegal or aggressive activity against users within the app. Our app’s algorithms block suspicious activity that may violate our community guidelines , including drug trafficking, which is rightly noted by the Sheriff’s Investigation Report… It is important to note that we cannot access users’ direct messaging activity, as this goes against of our privacy policy,” Taimi’s communications manager Yana Andyol said in a statement sent to CNN.

Andyol said the company has not received any investigations from law enforcement in the past six months regarding drug-related activity, but will conduct an internal investigation based on information released by the office of the Sheriff Judd and would improve moderation to prevent future similar incidents.

“We are concerned, however, that three separate LGBTQ+ apps were used to conduct the investigation given the growing stigma surrounding LGBTQ+ communities that are already subject to suspicion,” Andyol said.

A spokesperson for dating app Scruff told CNN they had no comment on the Polk County arrests. Scruff’s Terms of Service prohibit using the app for “any unlawful purpose” and “for commercial or non-private purposes.”

Detectives filed 159 felony charges and 72 misdemeanor charges during the investigation.

The suspects had a total of 908 prior charges – 453 prior felonies and 455 misdemeanors, the PCSO said.

Authorities also served search warrants at three addresses, the statement said.

During the investigation, the PCSO says it seized 14 firearms, two of which were reported stolen.

Detectives were able to purchase approximately 280 grams of methamphetamine with a street value of approximately $14,000 and approximately 3 grams of cocaine, the statement said.

The operation also yielded about 645 grams of marijuana, 113 grams (130 pills) of ecstasy, 1.5 grams of fentanyl/heroin, 28 grams of psychedelic mushrooms and one gram of LSD, the PCSO said.

“Suspects are getting more creative, but so are our detectives…When we find drug dealers, we put them in jail,” Judd said in the statement.

The PCSO said it would continue to monitor dating apps and encouraged the public to continue sending advice.

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