By REID TUCKER
A Walton County Sheriff’s Office investigation into a county-wide methamphetamine production ring resulted in more than 25 arrests in the span of 72 hours.
Sheriff Mike Adkinson said it was the biggest, most expansive case in the history of the agency, involving approximately 50 members of the criminal investigations and patrol bureaus, and thousands of hours of work over the course of the investigation, which began last October. The WCSO had, at the time of a press conference held Wednesday, June 18, executed five search warrants and was considering a sixth. Several suspects were still being questioned and processed, even while the press conference was underway.
“This has been successful operation to date, and we anticipate it to be even more successful in the following weeks,” Adkinson said. We anticipate this investigation to continue. This is probably the largest single felony arrest involving one case in the history of Walton County. We believe when it’s done we’ll top 35 to 40 individuals.”
“Operation Avalanche,” as the investigation was called, had a true snowball effect, collecting suspects ranging from low-level materials providers to the illegal drug enterprise’s leaders. Also among those arrested was public defender Leonard “Lenny” Platteborze, 61, whose two-decade career with the First Judicial Circuit’s Public Defender’s Office came to an end after his arrest at his office on the evening of Monday, June 16. Platterborze’s arrest report states that he admitted to storing illegal prescription drugs – a combined 16.5 grams of Oxycodone either illegally purchased or obtained from various clients – at his office desk.
First Judicial Circuit State Attorney Bill Eddins, who authorized the four wire taps that were instrumental in obtaining some of the information leading to the dozens of arrests, said Operation Avalanche had completely shut down a major methamphetamine operation. The arrest of Platteborze, he said, arose as an outgrowth of the main investigation, though Platteborze was “at minimum” a close friend with some of the investigation’s “Tier 1” suspects, Erica Nowling, 34, of DeFuniak Springs, Charles Alford, 45, of DeFuniak Springs,
WCSO deputies notified First Judicial Circuit Public Defender Bruce Miller and got his support prior to executing the search warrant at the agency’s DeFuniak Springs office. Eddins said Platteborze’s involvement in the drug production organization was an “isolated incident,” and that no other Public Defender’s Office employee is thought to be involved. Furthermore, Eddins said an experienced lawyer will fill Platteborze’s place so that pending criminal cases will not be impacted by his absence, though the final decision as to who that will be has not been made at this time.
“What’s sad about this is that for many years Lenny Platteborze had a good reputation and did an excellent job as a public defender and continued to perform properly in his job,” Eddins said. “We do not feel that any of his past cases will be impacted.”
The expansive investigation began last fall, when information received by narcotics unit regarding the possible manufacture of meth in the area of Jim Cotton Road. Further investigation revealed enough probable cause to get a search warrant resulting in 10 arrests. Eight of those 10 individuals returned to the manufacture of meth after bonding out, a testament to the addictive nature of the drug, Adkinson said, leading into Operation Avalanche.
Though the total number of those arrested as part of the still-ongoing operation currently numbers about 30 individuals, Adkinson said many more people will be questioned and likely arrested before the investigation is concluded. A full spectrum of drugs, including cannabis and prescription drugs, was obtained from those arrested in connection with the investigation, but meth production appears to be the primary purpose of the criminal enterprise. Furthermore, Adkinson said the full scope of the drug production and distribution operation may well prove to extend beyond the borders of Walton County into other parts of the Panhandle, though all arrests so far have been made in this county.
Despite what could be a long road ahead, Adkinson said Operation Avalanche had already achieved its ultimate goal of making Walton County a safer place, and he expressed his agency’s dedication to pursuing the investigation to its fullest extent.
“At the end of the day, there is no catch limit on this deal,” Adkinson said. “We’re going to continue going until we get all we can. When there’s no more meth, we’ll stop. When there’s no more prescription pills, we’ll stop. I don’t see that happening, though I wish I could say that it’s going to, but I think this [investigation] will make some people shiver.”
By REID TUCKER