When agents wanted to arrest and book medical assistant Nereida Ortiz, they didn’t have to go far. They put her in handcuffs at the same Miami jail where she works.
Ortiz was arrested this week outside the inmate clinic at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center in West Miami-Dade. The allegations: she helped a ring of pharmacy burglars who stole powerful cough syrup to make the powerful “lean” drink popular with hip-hop artists.
State and federal agents this week arrested Ortiz, 50, along with her daughter-in-law, Ashley Alexandra Laguna, 19. They believe the two aided a group believed to have burglarized dozens of South Florida CVS and Walgreens stores, and supplied big-name rap and R&B artists with the drink also known as “sizzurp.”
The suspected ringleader, Harrison “Cuban Harry” Garcia, was convicted this year and sentenced to 30 years in prison on separate federal drug-dealing charges. Federal agents believe he was supplying lean and drugs to singer Chris Brown and rapper Lil Wayne.
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Garcia is still facing racketeering charges alongside Ortiz, Laguna and seven others who agents say took part in the ring targeting the pharmacies. The group is accused of donning masks and using crowbars to enter the pharmacies to steal the cough syrup and other drugs — all at the direction of Garcia. More than 50 burglaries are believed to be tied to Garcia and the ring, according to the Florida Attorney General’s Office.
Ortiz, who earns $20.25 an hour, is an employee of Jackson Health System, which supplies medical personnel for the jails. She has worked with Jackson since 2005.
The two were arrested by agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and U.S. Homeland Security.
The others facing criminal charges: Alonzon Hinton, Bryan Pitter, Darrish Martin and Martin’s girlfriend, Raul Ponce, Ortiz’s son, and Chantelle Ponce, Laguna’s sister-in-law.
Prosecutors say Ortiz and Laguna “collected drug debts and transported stolen narcotics and a firearm” on behalf of Raul Ponce and the others.
According to agents, Ortiz and Laguna worked with a friend of Raul Ponce’s to pick up pills and a rifle. But they did not know the friend was working with undercover agents, according to an arrest warrant by HSI agent Kevin Selent and FDLE Agent Miles Son..
Ortiz and Laguna sent a man to pick up the items from the friend, using “shoes” as code for the drugs, the warrant said. “Lmk when u have it cause I have a buyer for the shoes,” Laguna allegedly wrote in a private Instagram message to the man.
The drugs, which were never delivered to Ortiz and Laguna but were seized by agents, were from a Walgreen heist in Southwest Miami-Dade, according to the warrant.