Florida Keys

Key West drug sweep of firehouses nets one arrest — for a tiny amount of cocaine

Two Key West firefighters were fired Aug. 20, 2018, following a drug sweep of all three fire stations.
Two Key West firefighters were fired Aug. 20, 2018, following a drug sweep of all three fire stations.

In text messages with an unidentified cocaine dealer, a former Key West firefighter discusses his heavy use of cocaine.

“Yo, I think I did enough cocaine yesterday to kill a large moose,” Arlen Fernandez, 22, texted a dealer, according to personnel records released by the city this week. The records detail the investigation that got Fernandez and another firefighter fired Aug. 20.

In texts between July 24 and Aug. 4, Fernandez, a firefighter since July 7, 2014, who earned $53,000 a year, appears to check in with the dealer to set up buys.

“I’ll give you 4 gs,” the dealer texts on Aug. 1. Fernandez says he has only $140 but will use an app to get him some money and leave the rest “in the truck.”

“I’m on duty,” he texts. “I’m at the downtown station.”

Fernandez was arrested after a simultaneous police sweep of all three fire stations in Key West on Aug. 10.

Cocaine crumbs, just .02 grams — or 22 milligrams — were found inside his Ford F-150 pickup truck parked outside of City Hall, 1300 White St., where Fernandez had gone for drug testing, police said.

In Florida, possession of any amount of cocaine is a felony.

Inside his duffel bag, found inside a bedroom Fernandez was using, police said they found a plastic bottle of urine and some heat wraps, the kind sold to relieve back pain.

“I identified this combination as what would be used to fake a drug test using clean urine at the appropriate temperature,” wrote Detective Mark Siracuse.

At Station no. 3, 1525 Kennedy Dr., police said they found marijuana residue on the rear step on the passenger’s side of a fire engine.

Using a “cocaine test wipe,” police found traces of cocaine inside a Jeep Wrangler parked outside the North Roosevelt Boulevard fire station but no arrest was made.

A second firefighter, Pedro Arencibia, was also fired Aug. 20 in connection with the drug sweep, police said. But he wasn’t arrested. In a series of texts police released, he trades slang with an unidentified person about obtaining prescription pain pills.

“Where the perks?” he asks an unidentified man in one text on July 5, referring to Percocet, police said.

On Aug. 7, the “other person,” as police called the man texting with Arencibia, was pulled over and found to be in possession of cocaine, police said. No arrest was announced.

Arencibia’s lawyer, Nathalia Mellies, said that he was fired because of insubordination and that he will appeal. Arencibia was hired as a maintenance worker on Dec, 2, 2015, and became a firefighter on June 6, 2016. His salary was $50,782 a year.

Fernandez was the only one arrested as a result of the drug sweep, which came after a special investigations unit tipped off police that there was “narcotics activity” going on at the fire department, police said.

Defense attorney Rick Wunsch, who’s representing Fernandez, said he’s never seen a prosecution come from such a small amount.

State Attorney Dennis Ward said he has yet to see any of the arrest reports and wouldn’t discuss any investigation. But he said the decision to bring criminal charges could depend on whether the amount of cocaine can withstand testing at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s drug lab.

“Depending on what happens at the lab, if there’s enough to go forward, we’ll go forward,” Ward said. “If there’s not, obviously we can’t go forward.”

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