OCEAN CITY — The Ocean City Police Department’s narcotics unit, in collaboration with allied agencies, late last month concluded a two-year drug distribution investigation utilizing an undercover officer posing as a taxi cab driver and owner with the grand jury indictments of 34 local residents on 91 charges.
Last week, the OCPD announced cursory information about Operation Sand Dollar, a two-year undercover operation targeting drug trafficking in the resort area during which an undercover officer posed as a cab driver to infiltrate Ocean City’s shadowy social circles. On Monday, OCPD Chief Bernadette DiPino, along with Worcester County Sheriff Reggie Mason, State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby and Mayor Rick Meehan laid out more of the details about the operation.
During the two-year operation, the officer turned cab driver made some drug buys and sales out of the taxi, but also established connections that led to further indictments. The operation was borne out of an idea to target known drug trafficking in the downtown area. After brainstorming, the OCPD came up with the idea of posing an undercover officer as the owner and operator as a legitimate cab company. With the cooperation of the city, including former City Manager Dennis Dare, the cab, called the “Tipsy Taxi,” was completely legitimate including a taxi medallion.
“The undercover officer posing as a cab driver and owner was a good way to infiltrate the social circle,” said DiPino on Monday. “It’s often a primary mode of transportation for those involved in drug trafficking.”
After conducting Operation Sand Dollar for two years, the gathered information was turned over to the State’s Attorney’s Office and on January 25, a Worcester County grand jury indicted 34 suspects on 91 counts of distribution of various controlled dangerous substances (CDS) and 28 charges of conspiracy to distribute CDS. DiPino said on Monday the operation targeted all forms of CDS distribution, but the primary focus was on the distribution of illegal prescription medication.
On February 2, the OCPD narcotics unit, along with the Worcester County Criminal Enforcement Team, began rounding up the indicted suspects. Thus far, 22 have been apprehended and four more were already in custody on unrelated charges. Information on the remainder of the wanted suspects has been forwarded to the Maryland State Apprehension Team. The total amount of preset bonds for those already in custody totaled $4.55 million.
DiPino praised the success of the operation and hopes it sends a message to dealers and users in the resort.
“We hope this sends a clear message to drug dealers and users to keep the activity out of our community,” she said. “You never know who an undercover officer might be. It could be the maid in your hotel, a bartender or even a street performer on the Boardwalk.”
For his part, Mason said the operation could be the tip of the iceberg and promised similar operations in the future.
“We will continue to go after drug users and dealers,” said Mason. “You’re going to see a lot more to come.”
For the complete story, with pictures and information about the arrested suspects, see Friday’s print and website editions of The Dispatch.