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Online Drug Investigation In San Diego Leads To 19 Arrests

The San Diego County Sheriff's Department made 19 arrests and seized drugs and $25,000 in cash during a six-month probe of online drug-dealing, officials announced Friday.

The investigation, dubbed "Operation.com," focused on finding and arresting street level drug dealers who used craigslist and Facebook to set up drug sales, according to sheriff's Cmdr. Mike Barletta.

"The traditional drug dealer that we picture ... standing on the street corner, is kind of not in existence anymore," Barletta said. "This is the wave of the future, we believe, is Internet sales."

Operation.com lasted from November 2013 until last month. Barletta said that undercover sheriff's deputies -- using the website urbandictionary.com to understand and translate slang and code names for drugs -- went online to find dealers selling drugs. The deputies set up a place to meet and made arrests when the dealers arrived at the arranged meeting place.

"You would not believe how easy it is," Barletta said. "Anyone anytime can go online, do the search -- these people are advertising their wares -- you just make the arrangement. The dealer tells you where and when to meet, they'll be there and get you pretty much whatever you would like. We hope that dealers become much more wary of us. They don't know when we're going to be there as the purchaser and make that arrest."

During Operation,com, deputies seized $25,000 in U.S. and Mexican currency and gold coins. They also seized half an ounce of heroin, one ounce of methamphetamine, more than six grams of cocaine and 16 doses of Ecstasy.

Those arrested -- from San Diego, Poway, Escondido and other places, face felony charges of conspiracy and possession of controlled substances, Barletta said.

"This all began by simple research from one of our deputies," Barletta said. "That deputy did a Google search, as younger people might do, just asking how to describe drugs, and came upon online drug dealing. So that launched an investigation for us."

Deputies from the High Intensity Drug Traffic Area/Tactical Narcotics Team worked with agents from the Border Crime Suppression Team as well as the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Border Patrol.

"Any agency could go after it," Barletta said. "We had the resources to be able to do that now, and we think it's an important issue for the community to get in front of."

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