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Drug War Collusion: Top Cops, Lapdog Press, And the Art of Tax-Funded Campaigning

| July 15, 2012

R.J. Larizza, the state attorney for the 7th judicial district, which includes Flagler County, was offended at the suggestion that Wednesday’s drug sweep was a campaign ploy. Larizza, Flagler County Sheriff Don Fleming and Putnam County Sheriff Jeff Hardy are all running for re-election. They all appeared at the ‘news conference’ to take credit for the sweep, though not a single rank-and-file cop was allowed to share the limelight. (© FlaglerLive)

If prostitution is the oldest profession, drug-dealing—which must, by definition, include selling beer, wine and coffee—is a close second, because the hunt for pleasure predates both. Then we got Richard Nixon. He had the not-quite bright idea, exactly 43 years ago Saturday (July 14), to declare a war on drugs.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive He proposed a 10-point program that included giving cops permission to enter a home without a warning, which is now routine, and asking Congress for the kind of money usually devoted to plans for invading other countries. The war on drugs has been a very successful war on Americans, and an equally successful war on civil liberties and the Bill of Rights. Drugs have fared much better, thriving from epidemic to epidemic with no appreciable progress against the habits but superb results for the prison-industrial complex.

At the time of Nixon’s war declaration, 200,000 people were in prison. Today, 2.3 million people are behind bars, a more than 1,000 percent increase driven largely by the war on drugs and politicians’ addiction to harsher and longer sentences.  In Florida since 1990, the average time served in prison rose by 166 percent. In 2010, more than 1.6 million people were arrested for drug violations, 80 percent of them for mere possession, and half for possession of a marijuana joint or less. Talk about reefer madness. Next time you meet a politician or a judge or even a cop, ask: Can Americans really have gotten more criminally minded by a factor of a thousand in the last 43 years? Are Americans really so lawless that they must account for a quarter of the entire world’s prison population (which they do)?

For all this, we’ve spent well over $1 trillion—assuming that the federal government alone has spent on average $25 to $30 billion a year on the war, not counting state and local jail costs. The money is still flowing. So are the drugs. So is the complicity between cops and the press that continues to make it possible. So is the corruption that greases it all, and the racism that underlies it: blacks, of course, are the disproportionate target of the scam.

On July 11, and not for the first time, I was myself an accomplice in Flagler County Sheriff Don Fleming’s latest bit of theater for the cause: a tri-county sweep of 78 fools who either possessed or sold a few prescription pills and were put in the slammer for it. The entire sweep across Flagler, St. Johns and Putnam counties by heaven knows how may police agencies netted no more than 1,500 pills, which is fewer than amounts you find in some of your grandmothers’ cabinets. And to think that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and its acolytes proudly spoke of their eight months (and untold tax dollars) devoted to the effort, as if local cops weren’t doing the very same thing every day, without the publicity, without the accolades, without the bogus choreography.

But it wasn’t about the pills. It was about the show of force, or what passes for force these day: targeting two-bit neighborhood pill-poppers. It was about Fleming, R.J. Larizza, the state attorney for the 7th Judicial Circuit, and Putnam County Sheriff Jeff Hardy running for election in a few weeks and using the ploy of a made-up news event for free air time: the perfect campaign commercial, starring reporters’ softball practice, little druggies, and our top cops bloviating about keeping our communities safe from boogeymen peddling painkillers.

Larizza, in as good an impersonation of Captain Renault as I’ve seen recently, was naturally “offended” at the suggestion. He then reflexively turbo-charged campaign mode to say he was doing what he was elected to do. Actually, he wasn’t doing anything at all aside from playing to the cameras and taking credit, though it’s the cops—the rank and file—that had done it all. As always, rank and file cops weren’t featured at the news conference. They never are. They’re too busy doing their job.

Ironically, Fleming mentioned Nixon’s drug war in his speech to the cameras and even noted how long these sweeps have been going on and how long they’ll keep going on. You didn’t have to be an Einstein to be reminded of Albert’s definition of insanity—doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Fleming conceded as much to me after the news conference, when he described the effort in no uncertain terms as “shoveling shit into the tide”–the most honest words I’d heard all afternoon.

What Fleming didn’t mention publicly is his son, who was the subject of a previous stunt two years ago, when he was arrested for illegally possessing prescription drugs. William Fleming is fine now. But jail didn’t fix him. Treatment did. And that’s the point. Whether you’re on crack, meth, Oxycodone or whiskey, if you’re an addict, you’re not a criminal. You’re sick. You need help. Not jail.

But treatment isn’t sexy for politicians. Fleming and Larizza can’t stand at a treatment clinic and give us their warmed-over propaganda about keeping communities safe. Prisons and jails would empty out. Police budgets would be revealed for the obscenity they are. And we couldn’t have that now, could we. We need a war to keep our cops busy and our prisons full, our sheriffs and state attorneys looking like the tough guys they are.

Until they hit the bottle at happy hour and congratulate themselves for a job well done to the clinks of their own drug of choice.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here.

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32 Responses for “Drug War Collusion: Top Cops, Lapdog Press, And the Art of Tax-Funded Campaigning”

  1. Jennifer says:

    Damn, well said!

    Treatment is really needed and only a few are able to get it.

  2. Peter says:

    Pierre, I greatly admire your intellect and journalism. But what I admire most about you and Flagler Live is your courage. How do you do it in this small town where the cops reign supreme? Don’t you worry that either you or yours will be unfairly targeted with a trumped up charge (which happens all the time in this police run town) or, at the very least, stopped and harassed when you are on the road? Goes to show that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword.

    You are absolutely right and spot on about this issue, both from a national perspective, as well as a regional one. These high law enforcement officials are definitely whipping up anti-drug hysteria and pandering to potential voters in an election year. Not that I’m a fan of illicit drugs; actually exactly the opposite is true. Drug abuse destroys so many, particularly our youth, but users need treatment, not incarceration! What politicians have done with this issue is far more damaging and wasteful than the drug abuse itself.

    Back to our esteemed local high officials. Most of them are so power hungry that they will do anything to stay in office. Take Don Fleming, for example. He acts more like Don Corleone than a sheriff! The sheriff might not be a fan of prescription drugs, but he definitely likes his alcohol. Those who know him well, know this fact very well, but will probably not speak of it with someone like you. And while we are on the issue of the sheriff and his suitability (or lack thereof) of staying in office, even if one were to forget the scandals of his free membership to the Club at Hammock Beach and his attempted coverup of the hit-and-run incident, what he recently did is right out of a Soprano episode. Very few know of this, but people need to be informed. About a month or so ago, The Don was with his wife and step-daughter getting hammered at a local watering-hole – Farley’s – when the young lady in the party got into a drunken verbal argument with another inebriated young lady who worked with her boyfriend in a closeby restaurant. I happened to be at the bar and witnessed the whole incident. It was just a verbal disagreement between two drunk young women. If it were anything more serious, surely the cops would have been summoned, or would they? I don’t think Don wanted anyone to know about this, because all from both parties were embarrassingly drunk! Don could have gone home and forgotten about the whole thing, but he did what any respectable head of a gang would do, he waited a few weeks then called the restaurant where the young woman and her boyfriend worked (the owner is Don’s friend) and got both of them fired! From what I heard, the two young people had worked there for over five years and were considered good employees. Two more added to the ranks of the unemployed. Absolute power corrupts absolutely!

    • spoton says:

      Peter- Fleming did not get them fired – their Boss fired them on his own-
      he would not stand for any of his employee’s acting out that way and be a reflection on his business. Sheriff Fleming, his wife and step-daughter were not and would not get hammered as you so carefully expressed. Obviously you are not a Fleming supporter? A little one-sided.

    • Liz says:

      Wow i now know who I am not voting for…… just saying… Oh and i was there also so i saw it first hand… from my balcony…. and as far as the boss goes tisk tisk. Again just saying.

  3. Magnolia says:


  4. roco says:

    I’m sorry we may have hurt your feelings. If you and Fleming are offended you must be a guilt trip.. It will be good to see both of you gone in this upcoming election…

  5. Mike Parent says:

    THE CHILDREN If they really cared for the children they’d legalize and regulate marijuana. If they really wanted to keep any substance out of the hands of “The Children” they first must take control of distribution away from black market dealers. They haven’t accomplished that in 40+ years at a taxpayers cost in the hundreds of billions. It’s time to treat marijuana as we do alcohol. My 27 year old daughter still gets carded when she buys alcohol, yet your 13 year old can buy anything the black market dealer has for a price whether it be money or “something else”.
    FACT: Your kids have a better chance dying at the hands of someone enforcing marijuana laws than they do from ingesting it.(ZERO %).

    LEAP member, NYPD, ret. Scientific Proof Marijuna is not a Gateway drug!

  6. PJ says:


  7. palmcoaster says:

    If you all noticed this Sunday morning out of the blue (maybe done late Saturday night) 6 political signs of Larizza for Prosecutor, big yellow and blue, showed up on the Palm Coast Parkway East right before and past Clubhouse Drive starting on the corner of Florida Park Drive on the right hand “public aka city right of way” Is our city allowing this?
    Hello? … we are not supposed to support with political signs to anyone or party, neither for any advertisement on the city and public right of way! As a matter of fact there is also next to it a real estate sign as well. Is our city being bias? I want to know how many feet is our right of way in that section! No matter how close the GOP local headquarters seats now in the Kings Common Plaza off Old Kings Road.

    • Anonymous says:

      Good for you! Somebody finally noticed the many signs in city areas. Anybody notice the Meeker and Fleming signs in front of the Portuguese Cultural Center? Anybody know what their tax status is? If they are exempt, this is illegal.

  8. Rick says:

    I appreciate your intellect and thoughts on this matter, yet you severely missed the purpose of the drug sweep. It was not addicts that were arrested it was drug dealers. There is no treatment program for criminals who infect our community with the poison they spread (except for jail). Although I do agree with you that the overall war on drugs is a losing battle and this was a pathetic show of media whoring for political reasons the men and women who worked there tails off everyday to put these cases together should not be criticized because the politicians jumped in front of the camera.

  9. question says:


    “Don’t you worry that either you or yours will be unfairly targeted with a trumped up charge (which happens all the time in this police run town)”
    —really? — victim of trumped up charges—happens ALL the time?. Should possibly have have proof/examples. And they are?

    “or, at the very least, stopped and harassed when you are on the road?”
    —really?—harassed–how?? on the road??

    • Dorothea says:

      @ Question

      There is a woman who posts here who received terrible retribution for her criticism of the sheriff. I hope she responds to your question.

      There is another woman, and I don’t know if she posts here or not, but she is a friend of the sheriff. She got into her car drunk and turned onto US 1 going in the wrong direction. She hit a car that was driving correctly in the opposite direction. Was she arrested for DUI? NO.

      Retribution or reward by this sheriff is lengendary. Sheriff’s department employees who support the sheriff and do his bidding get hired and promoted, The rest get the shaft. Friends get “special” treatment and critics get arrested or harassed.

  10. Think first, act second says:

    What did I miss in the story. I thought the ones who were apprehended were drug dealers, not drug users who need treatment? Is it not the law to incarcerate those who break the law, but it is the judges responsibility to offer treatment for the users? Are the judges then also culpable here by extension?

  11. Collusion says:

    Who says history doesn’t repeat itself?
    2008 Primary Election
    “Operation Zero Tolerance” August 16, 2008- The Primary Election for Flagler County was on August 26, 2008 (10 days later).
    2008 General Election
    Operation “Blood Out” October 28, 2008-The General Election was November 4, 2008 (7 days later).

  12. ANONYMOUSAY says:

    WAIT! Wait, I hear echos form the past sounds like Flemming and Larizza: “There are no gangs in Flagler County. There is no drug problem in Flagler County.” We just want to build a bigger vacation resort under the guise of expanding the Jail, and when we miraculously Houdini away all the crime we’ve allowed to accumulate since 04 we’ll just rent the extra cells out to all the unemployed citizens who are left that haven’t checked into a psych ward.These guys are nuts. Only thing missing is Tatoo yelling – Boss, Boss the plane, the Plane!

  13. Dadgum says:

    I sit here pondering if we can somehow take the voting for a Sheriff every four years and replacing it much like taking red light cameras away from sheriffs. I mean there might as well be no enforcement since sheriffs are not writing tickets during this election year. Were they told to stop writing for political reasons. It’s all smoke and mirrors, a pony show. I support Flagler Live for truth, justice and the American way before I would these politico’s. Great Editorial Pierre.

  14. Biker says:

    Larizza is not supported by the rank and file. The 7th Judicial district under his watch has a history of destroying goood solid cases and in some instances, not pursuing cases at all. The hardworking, arrest oriented law enforcement officers cant wait to see him go in hopes the next prosecutor will really have the public interest at heart.

    • Dorothea says:

      Biker, the rank and file of the sheriff’s department is certainly fickle. One year they vociferously supported Jim Manfre to replace the incumbent sheriff, and were disappointed because Manfre actually ran the department. So four years later they supported Fleming who ran (and I use the word loosely) the department by supporting his favorites no matter what breach of discipline they engaged in. So the rank and file supported Fleming for another four years of running amok. Four years ago the rank and file supported Larizza against the incumbent prosecutor. Now you are telling us the rank and file is unhappy with Larizza, and hoping to replace him, too. My suggestion to the voting citizens of Flagler County, especially the newer voters, beware of anyone supported by the “rank and file.” It is usually a self-serving endorsement and has nothing to do with how well the candidate will serve the public.

  15. Flagler Resident says:

    Mr. Editor you make a great argument about treatment. Drugs is a disgusting and terrible thing to happen to anyone. It does not just affect one person, but an entire family. Several years ago, my heart was torn when my family member admit he was addicted to pain pills. His habit became so bad he was spending about $200 a day for his fix. If it were not for being arrested to open his eyes, I think I would of attended his funeral by now.

    What I find morally disgusting is Halifax Medical Center. This young man did not have insurance. He was baker acted because he refused to go to rehab on his own. The withdrawal of drugs caused psychosis and a combative state. After he was baker acted, he was released 3 hours later. 3 hours later! I was told by the hospital their hands were tied. I asked local law enforcement, besides taking him back to Halifax the only option was to go to jail. Jail was not the answer, treatment was the desired answer. For God Sakes, what will jail do? Perhaps speed his demise?

    I run a red light and I get a ticket. I go 5-10 miles over the speed limit a cop is on my butt. But those who are selling drugs, using drugs, becoming a drain on society, what happens to them? They get recycled through the system forming a rap sheet a mile long. The problem is not solved. I fear every day that my family member stays clean, I dread the phone call that he is dead. Dead because no one could help him.

    I find it distasteful that such a serious matter that has deep affect on our community is being used as a political ploy for a re-election bid. I want something to be done and I want it to be done effectively. I want those who are sick to be treated and become productive members of society.. For the record, I am absolutely appalled by Sheriff Fleming’s comment. As a public servant, he should know better.

  16. Time to vote says:

    When it is time to vote remember how corrupt these people who are supposed to protect and serve are. Vote them out!!! Most of the sherriff’s department is corrupt. How about deputies who allow Western Flagler County be over run with pill addicts and dealers, as long as, they can use them as informants…. Sad really that they are allowed to promote this kind of behavior to benefit themselves.

  17. Clint says:

    Congradulation Pierre, this is the first article of TRUTH I have ever agreed with. You see America has become the “Land of the Watched, and the Home of the Braveless”. Nobody has the courage or are just to scared to try and change the sorry mess that has become our once GREAT nation. Political BS and total control of the population is leading to the New World Order……I have to stop now, there’s a drone flying over my house taking pictures and recording my keystrokes !

  18. w.ryan says:

    Great article. On point! Such a large multitude unable to vote!

  19. Peter says:

    To the person who calls himself “question”:

    You seem to be a member of FCSO or perhaps the kingpin himself. While I don’t feel compelled to respond to you, I must say this: either you are choosing to ignore or are oblivious/naive of the existence of lawsuits (settled and pending) against FCSO for just what I mentioned. Do your research. And as far as roadside harassment goes, there again, you are either exempt because of your connections or your job, OR you lock yourself in your house after dark, but if you look into the matter you will will see, many people, mostly our youth, are detained during “routine stops”, often by 5 or 6 squad cars. I am not suggesting the involved deputies are bad people. I merely think their behavior is indicative of a culture perpetuated by the brass of an over-staffed, over-zealous department. And these incidents are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, the ones we know of. Think about what we don’t know.

  20. palmcoaster says:

    My feeling is that we have a ring of maffia style running this district now and has to change. Stasia Warren got my vote!

  21. happeningnow says:

    Thank you, Editor, Flagler/Live. You are theonly TRUE voice we have in Flagler County. Everyday I wonder if TODAY will be the day I get THE phone call because my family member is no longer alive. I know they can’t be helped if they don’t want it, however, jail time would be the perfect place to help with drug addition. Not just one AA meeting either. Vince Carter at $800.00 per day, (who has that) has the right idea, they have mentors that stay with them after treatment to guide them so the DRUG dealers can’t get at them. And they do. They are parasites.Once they learn they can make it on their own, they are more than likely to help another. Drug addicts have a hole in their soul and use anything to fill it up. If they only coul learn you fill yourself up with you, it is manageable, Takes alot of love from others.

  22. palmcoaster says:

    When Jim Manfre was sheriff in 2004 he was rabidly witch hunted by the BOCC and the police benevolent chief Pat McGuire serving time later, for child sexual abuse, over a few hundred $$ calendar as was done on the election year…
    July 2004: The Flagler County Commission sued Sheriff Jim Manfre for access to Public Records that detail the costs of calendars and holiday greeting cards sent to residents of Bunnell. Manfre allegedly failed to provide access to the records, but disputes that the calendar is an election year political issue, not a violation of the Sunshine Law.

    These 2 spend hundreds of thousands in tax payers monies if not millions on the bogus show of enforcement and also while displaying his political signs in our city public right of way! Something is very shady around here.`Where is city code enforcement taking those down and away to the garbage container as they do with everyone else’s signs? Just kind of organized crime style.

  23. jj says:

    Great reporting P you report the truth. Hey flagler county voters. Its time to vote. Time to clean house

  24. Peter says:

    Rick, I think not Pierre, but you “severely missed the purpose of the drug sweep.” I think the article makes it completely clear that a lengthy tri-county investigation by who knows how many law enforcement professionals that netted 1500 prescription pills is a WASTE OF TAXPAYER MONEY no matter how you parse it! And it is totally motivated by election year politics! If, as you say, the war on drugs is a losing battle, why not consider a different approach? Did prohibition work? Pierre has not said anything disparaging about the professionals who conducted the investigation and raid, he merely questioned the wisdom of current anti-drug policies and our county’s top law enforcement officials’ timing and motivation for this expensive and ineffective drug sweep.

  25. Ray Thorne says:

    I think this story missed the mark. Its the pusher that was targeted not the addict. Yes addicts have a problem and treatment can help but there is no treatment other than incarceration for those addicted to the enormous amounts of money made by selling drugs.

  26. Peter says:

    Ray Thorne, were you reading the same article everyone else was reading? I believe the general gist of the article is that the war on drugs is costing the taxpayer a tremendous amount of money and is completely ineffective. And the recent costly tri-county “sweep” was a complete waste of resources because it netted only 1500 pills AND the whole operation was politically motivated. I happen to agree with the piece. If you don’t, fine, state your viewpoint, but to say it missed the mark only shows that you didn’t understand it. Sorry for my bluntness, no offense intended.

  27. palmcoaster says:

    The “local pseudo organize crime” political signs on the public right of way and on our public land right hand side of Palm Coast Parkway East, between Florida Park Drive and Colbert Lane, are finally gone today Tuesday. How convenient for the candidate, that took our City of Palm Coast code enforcement 2 days to have them removed….? Not only they used our taxes for political purposes they also used two plus days of public right of way and land for their personal benefit display.

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