"Free TV Offer" Nabs Hard To Find Suspected Drug Dealers

Nothing is free. More than a dozen people suspected of dealing drugs in Picayune learned that the hard way Tuesday. Picayune police set up what amounted to an elaborate hoax to lure in suspected dealers.

The suspected dealers came to G.T.D. Electronics to claim their prize - a 50 inch Sony TV. But instead of taking home a new TV, police were at the fake store waiting to take them to jail.

Police mailed each suspected dealer a certificate telling them they were the lucky winner of a big screen TV. The certificate also asked them to call and set up an appointment to come pick up their prize.

"They made a self appointment for an arrest, and they had no idea the number that they called was to the local criminal investigation division," Major David Ervin said.

The suspected pushers are accused of selling a variety of drugs to undercover agents - everything from crack and power cocaine to marijuana and even prescription drugs. Police say most of the suspects are considered mid to upper level drug dealers who have eluded police for years.

"We just got together and tried to come up with a creative way to go after the dealers. Put the dealers where they need to be - out of business," Picayune Police Chief Jim Luke said.

To make the fake store seem real, authorities put ads in the newspaper and hired a manager who happens to be a retired FBI Agent. It may seem like a lot of work, but officers say it was a good way to "get the dealer". Hence the name, "G.T.D. Electronics."

"We think it's going to have a tremendous impact in reducing the drugs on the streets in Picayune, and it's not over yet," Luke said.

Police say using this deceptive method of rounding up suspected dealers is safer and more cost efficient, requiring less manpower to make arrests.

"Sometimes it takes up to 60 law enforcement officers to safely do the round up operations. We were able to cut that by more than two thirds. We have less than 20 officers involved in this," Chief Investigator Joel Hudson said.

Police worked operation "Get The Dealer" for more than five months before Tuesday's store sting. They had arrest warrants for 18 people. The ones who didn't respond to the "free TV" offer got a home visit from officers and were picked up.

by Al Showers