College Park residents started complaining directly to Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer's office nearly three months ago about junkies tossing dirty needles near Orlando Junior Academy.
An East Evans Street bungalow with torn screens and a mattress on the front porch operated like a 24-hour drugstore, selling heroin and marijuana across the street from the 109-year-old Seventh-Day Adventist school, court records show.
"I hate that this is happening right here in my neighborhood," said an East Evans Street resident, who declined to be identified.
Known for streets named after Ivy League campuses and the neighborhood where Dyer himself lives, College Park is rarely touched by crimes worse than occasional burglaries.
"When the Mayor's Office receives these inquiries they are directed to the appropriate department to handle," said Heather Fagam, the mayor's deputy chief of staff. "Having said that, I would say that it is uncommon to receive complaints related to drug use in College Park at the Mayor's Office."
By the time the tips to Dyer's office began in early April, undercover drug agents already had been tailing suspected drug trafficker William "Brick" Odom Jr. for about a month, records show.
Drug agents raided the College Park bungalow April 9 and days later made the first arrest in the Odom investigation which police described as one of 15 heroin-trafficking cases since January.
Heroin returned as an increasing problem across Central Florida after a statewide crackdown in 2011 and 2012 on doctor-operated pill mills left addicts without easy access to prescription painkillers, according to the Center for Drug-Free Living in Orlando.
"Heroin use has been cyclical over the decades. It kind of dropped off in the mid-'70s and ramped up in 1995 and 1996," said CDFL spokesman Todd Dixon. "With the demise of the pill mills and doctor shopping we saw that reverse again."
Greater Orlando has consistently led the state in per-capita heroin deaths. Last year, 89 drug users died from heroin overdoses in Orange and Osceola counties, up from 19 in 2011, records show.
Sgt. Drew Thomas of the Orlando Police Department's drug squad said the spike prompted drug units to shift more resources to heroin investigations.
"That's why our [case] numbers went up drastically because that's what caught our attention," Thomas said. "Essentially, our job is to save lives."
In the last 12 months, OPD seized 724 grams of heroin compared to 124 grams seized in the previous 12 months, according to Thomas.
Heroin-trafficking cases in Florida require an arrest involving at least 4 grams.
'It's a terrible story'
The trail to heroin dealing in College Park began Feb. 24. A woman caught with marijuana told police she had recently bought heroin at the bungalow on East Evans Street. She identified her dealer as James "Jimmy" Harrison, 56, a heroin user who grew up in the 1930s bungalow owned by his family, according to court records.
"It's a terrible story," said a neighbor who declined to give her name. "He's tried a number of times to change and pushed away people who were bad influences on him."
On March 20, a confidential informant told police Harrison was being supplied by Odom and another heroin dealer and selling it to local residents, records show.
Agents raided the bungalow April 9 and seized about $40 of heroin, $1,020 in cash, some hash oil, 5 grams of pot and two hypodermic needles with heroin residue. Harrison told agents Odom had been supplying him weekly with heroin, records show.
"The tips specifically described the target residence and stated several heroin users hang out and discard needles around the property," Det. Donald Kollar wrote in Harrison's arrest report. "This activity takes place at all hours especially during the day-time hours while children are at school directly across the street. The school staff is concerned about the drug activity and want to protect the children and felt it necessary to alert the mayor's office."
Harrison was arrested April 15 — his 33rd arrest since 1978. He remains free on bail charged with heroin dealing and other drug charges. His attorney Jose Francisco Torroella could not be reached.
The pursuit of Odom continued into May.
"[Odom] was pretty routine. That was his job," Thomas said. "Between 8:30 and 9:30 in the morning, he was up and working."
Unlike other recent heroin cases, Odom, 26, was the first to include College Park, according to Thomas.
During the investigation, Odom made daily visits to gas stations, convenience stores and parking garages around the city where men and women waited with cash.
"The unknown person would enter the rear seat and exit the vehicle in less than two minutes," Det. Donald Kollar wrote in Odom's arrest affidavit. "This type of behavior took place over 20 to 30 times a day at various times and locations."
And every day Odom took up to five breaks. Each was a chance to resupply so Odom could avoid being arrested with more than 4 grams of heroin, according to court records.
On May 8, a police sergeant assisting the drug unit tried to stop Odom in College Park on Vassar Street for driving with illegally tinted windows. Odom sped away from the patrol car while at least one undercover vehicle followed him from a distance, records show.
He abandoned the 2015 Toyota Camry rental car in Altamonte Springs along with a loaded Glock pistol and a cellphone with 1,308 text messages mostly negotiating drug transactions, records state.
Agents spent nearly two weeks drafting a 16-page arrest warrant affidavit, search warrants and arranging to have the SWAT team present for the raids on Odom's home and two stash houses.
On May 20, agents arrested Odom after finding $60,123 hidden inside a false wall in the master bedroom of his Ocoee home and a loaded handgun in his car, records show.
Odom was charged with heroin trafficking after 68.8 grams — nearly 700 doses of heroin — and a half-ounce of crack cocaine were found inside the Milano Drive home where Odom took his daily breaks, records show.
His lawyer Michael LaFay of the NeJame law firm could not be reached for comment.
Odom remains jailed in lieu of $500,000 bail on charges of selling heroin, cocaine and marijuana, possession of firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon and lesser offenses. Before he can be released, he must prove his bail money was earned legally.
Source: Orlando Sentinel