A routine Thursday afternoon traffic stop by a Citrus County Sheriff’s Office deputy led to the biggest seizure of methamphetamine and fentanyl in the agency’s history.
The 1 p.m. bust also took drugs with a value of nearly $131,000 off the streets, along with several firearms.
“This is the largest seizure of fentanyl and methamphetamine in Citrus County’s history. The amount of fentanyl seized could have killed hundreds of people,” said Sheriff Mike Prendergast. “My office is committed to keeping our citizens safe from these deadly narcotics.”
The arrest and subsequent raid at a Citrus Springs home began when Detective Mike Laborda stopped a red, 2011 Chevrolet Camaro when the driver, Ricky Lee Pope, 56, of Citrus Springs, didn’t stop at a stop sign on North Florida Avenue, outside of Dunnellon, according to arrest reports.
Next to Pope in the passenger seat was Justin Derrick Minor Pope, 32, of 1571 E. Sheridan Lane, Hernando. The two Popes were father and son, according to the Sheriff's Office.
Soon after the stop, Laborda called K9 Handler Deputy David Elias to the traffic stop with his partner, K9 Odie, according to arrest reports.
While Laborda was looking up information about Pope’s driver’s license, Elias deployed Odie to sniff around the car. Odie soon alerted his handler that drugs were in the trunk, according to arrest records.
Meanwhile, Laborda learned that Pope’s driver’s license was suspended. Ordering the driver out of the car, Laborda found a wrench socket in Pope’s pocket and looking as if it had been converted into a homemade smoking device. Pope lives at 9075 N. Arcadia Way, Citrus Springs, south of Dunnellon.
When Laborda searched the trunk he found a book bag. Inside the book bag he found two sandwich bags and inside those leafy material that later tested positive for cannabis, weighing 12.2 grams, according to arrest records. He also found a scale with residue that tested positive for methamphetamine, and two pills which tested positive for ecstasy.
Confronted with the two pills, Ricky Lee Pope told deputies, “Those are just men’s pills for erections,” according to arrest records.
Meanwhile, Elias also searched the inside of the car and in a pocket on the back of the passenger car, he found a multi-colored, tin container. Inside the tin box, Elias found a plastic bag with crystal material inside that later tested positive for methamphetamine. Also inside was a plastic baggie that contained brown material that later tested positive for heroin, according to arrest reports.
When deputies arrested Ricky Lee Pope, Pope claimed to have a medical marijuana card, but could not produce it for deputies, according to arrest reports.
He was charged with five counts of possession of a controlled substance, possession of cannabis, less than 20 grams, drug paraphernalia, and tampering with evidence. His bond was $17,000.
But it would soon go much worse for Ricky Lee Pope, who is a three-time convicted felon, the Sheriff's Office told the Chronicle.
Meanwhile, Elias also found under the passenger seat, where Justin Pope was sitting, a lunch box, according to arrest reports. When Elias looked inside, he found Justin Pope’s wallet and other identification documents. But he also found a cellophane wrapper and inside 16 alprazolam pills and a baggie with crystal material, which later tested positive for methamphetamine.
The younger Pope said the drugs inside the box (next to his wallet, driver’s license and other identity documents), were not his, according to arrest reports. Deputies arrested Justin Pope and charged him with two counts of possession of a controlled substance. His bond was set at $4,000.
Ricky Lee Pope’s day got worse when about four hours later the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office’s Tactical Impact Unit, with a search warrant in hand, went to Ricky Lee Pope’s home in Citrus Springs. That’s where deputies found an array of drugs and guns.
Inside the house deputies found a Smith and Wesson .40 caliber pistol, a .38 special revolver, an SKS assault rifle, two 12-gauge shotguns, and a .410 pump action shotgun, according to arrest records. Being a convicted felon, it violated Florida law to have the weapons in his home.
Deputies also found 6.15 pounds of cannabis in the home’s living room, 1.9 ounces of ecstasy, three fentanyl patches, 11 vials of steroids, and materials intended to be used to store or use illegal drugs.
Detectives also found methamphetamine in a shed outside the home and 1.1 pounds of methamphetamine inside a bedroom wine cooler.
In total, deputies found 1.6 pounds of methamphetamine and 1.8 ounces of fentanyl, Sheriff Prendergast said.
Deputies charged Ricky Lee Pope a second time. The additional charges included two counts of trafficking in opioids, six counts of possessing firearms, two counts of possessing controlled substances, two counts of possessing or manufacturing or intending to sell controlled substances, trafficking in methamphetamine, leasing a home for purposes of trafficking in drugs, and possessing drug paraphernalia. His second bond was set at $169,000.
The amount of confiscated drugs was greater than the previous Citrus County record in 2019 when law enforcement officials found just over one pound of methamphetamine.
“As I have said before, if you deal drugs in Citrus County, I am coming after you with my team,” Prendergast said. “I am grateful for the outstanding law enforcement work by everyone involved in this case and their relentlessness to arrest drug dealers like Ricky Pope so they are no longer a threat to our community.”