Florida authorities have charged 68 suspected drug dealers who sold narcotics on popular gay dating apps after detectives found it ‘relatively easy’ to get them to incriminate themselves by sending them undercover messages on Grindr, Scruff and Taimi.
The six-month investigation, dubbed “Swipe Left for Meth,” was launched by the Polk County Sheriff’s Department in July 2021 after receiving an anonymous tip that dealers were openly selling narcotics on all three apps.
“It was a shock to us that they were openly advertising,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said at a Thursday news conference.
‘Can you believe that? They were openly advertising that they were selling drugs on dating apps.
In total, Judd said detectives filed 159 felony and 72 misdemeanor charges as a result of the investigation, executing three search warrants in the process. Most of those arrested had criminal records, including one man who had 32 prior crimes.
Detectives seized approximately 280 grams of methamphetamine (worth approximately $14,000), three grams of cocaine, 130 tablets of ecstasy (MDMA), approximately one and a half grams of fentanyl/heroin, one gram of LSD , approximately 28 grams of psychedelic mushrooms and 645 grams of marijuana.
Judd said marketers would use code words and signs — like “Tina,” the ice cream emoji, birthday cake emoji and “party” references — to indicate in a way not so subtle they were selling drugs.
Detectives created fake profiles on the apps, finding it “relatively easy to strike up conversations with those who were selling methamphetamine, cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, fentanyl and marijuana in Polk County”.
Scroll down for video
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd brandishes a firearm seized from the home of Anthony Ballard, who was arrested for armed meth trafficking and a series of other charges in the sting. At a press conference Thursday about his department’s “Swipe Left for Meth” initiative, Judd said “it came as a shock” to sleuths that dealers were “openly advertising” on meth apps. met.
Police have arrested 60 addicts and drug dealers after breaking into gay dating apps to track them down, and are still looking for eight people they have yet to apprehend
(Top right to bottom left) Adam Trembley, 40, Angelo Lopez, 36, Christopher Wright, 32, Willy Dunn, 27, Jezze Valez-Pagan, 31, Donovan Brandt, 40, John Rials , 44, and Matthew Gamwell, 40, are still at large after they were caught selling drugs on gay dating apps
“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.”
More drugs were sold on Grindr than on the other two apps, detectives have found.
Police found 14 firearms – including two stolen – at the Auburndale residence of 46-year-old Anthony Ballard.
Ballard, who had 17 prior felonies, was charged with the capital crime of armed meth trafficking, along with other crimes including selling meth, possession of meth, possession of marijuana, grand theft of a weapon fire and possession of more than 20 grams of marijuana.
At the press conference, Judd brandished an assault rifle that had been recovered from Ballard’s home.
“There are those who still call it ‘low-level, non-violent drugs,'” he said.
‘For these dingalings, what is it? It’s a gun. It’s a serious gun that they used to protect [themselves]and while we seized this drug, our detectives put their lives in danger.
Police found 14 firearms – two stolen – at the Auburndale residence of 46-year-old Anthony Ballard (pictured)
“Every week I see drug-related deaths. It’s not non-violent when it kills people… it’s not non-violent when they need equipment like this to protect their hideout from others.
Many of the 68 people arrested had previous charges, Judd said, presenting a large binder of their collective criminal records.
Another of those arrested, Gator Kleizo, 56, had 26 prior crimes when he was found on one of the apps by detectives, including previous charges of kidnapping and theft.
Detectives bought methamphetamine from Kleizo four times. When police raided his home, 13 of his guests were arrested and charged with drug-related charges.
Gator Kleizo, 56 (pictured), had committed 26 previous crimes when he was found on one of the apps by detectives, including previous charges of kidnapping and theft
Police seized 93 grams of MDMA from known gang member John ‘Smurf’ Davis, 40, who Judd said had 32 felony charges to his name.
And Jeremy Acevedo, 36, served five years for possession of methamphetamine in 2016 before being recently charged by detectives in their initiative.
Allen Tyson, 57, reportedly told his family members to pass on a message to police: “If they want me, they can come get me.”
“It took us an hour to find him,” Judd told the conference. “It’s not Houdini, he didn’t hide very well.”
Tyson has been charged with felonies for selling marijuana, possession of marijuana, and using a two-way communication device to commit a felony, as well as misdemeanors for marijuana paraphernalia.
Adam Trembley of Winterhaven, 40, reportedly shared his strategy for hiding his marijuana use when he was contacted undercover by authorities.
“He said you see, if you get a medical marijuana card, you only have to buy that expensive marijuana card once. Then you buy street marijuana because it’s so much cheaper and put it in your medical marijuana box…so they don’t bother you.
He was charged with felonies for selling and possessing methamphetamine and marijuana, but he remains at large.
Allen Tyson, 57 (pictured), is said to have told his family members to pass on a message to the police: ‘if they want me they can pick me up’
Adam Trembley of Winterhaven, 40 (pictured), has yet to be apprehended by police
Angelo Lopez, 36; John Rials, 44; Christopher Wright, 32; Donovan Brandt, 40; Jesse Vélez-Pagan, 31; Matthew Gamwell, 40, and Willy Dunn, 27, have not yet been apprehended, with the Polk County Sheriff asking the public to share any information about their whereabouts.
Judd said law enforcement is “working with these mobile app companies to raise awareness” and asking for their cooperation in their investigations.
“Suspects are getting more creative, but so are our detectives,” he said.