WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (WFLA) — Surrounded by a table full of evidence including guns and drugs, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd outlined a state-wide, year-long investigation into the “Sex, Money, Murder” gang that resulted in over 160 charges against 41 suspects at a press conference Wednesday.
One of the men arrested was Donahue Stephenson, a prison leader and one of the highest-ranking members of the gang. Stephenson is currently being held at the Santa Rosa Correctional Institution in Milton. Stephenson was charged with:
- Conspiracy to Racketeer
- Directing Criminal Gang Activity
Stephenson was sentenced in 2010 to 15 years in prison for Robbery with a Weapon (Not Deadly) and another five years for Carrying a Concealed Firearm.
Judd said the investigation started in May 2021 when he went to Attorney General Ashley Moody, who was also at the press conference, to ask for help on a wiretap with the goal of disrupting the gang’s operation.
“We’d listen to social media apps, we’d listen to cell phones and their communications through court orders,” Judd said. “It’s a complicated process.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement spent months writing probable cause warrants for the wiretaps. In September 2021, those wiretaps began. It was the first one ever conducted in Polk County, according to Judd.
The wiretaps helped law enforcement get racketeering charges with gang enhancements against Sex, Money, Murder’s entire Florida hierarchy and the top leader in the state of North Carolina.
Racketeering charges with the gang enhancements come with a life prison sentence.
“Our goal is that they never breathe the air outside of a prison again,” Judd said.
Law enforcement also seized over $1.5 million worth of drugs during the operation. That includes 21.45 pounds of methamphetamine, 2,595 grams of cocaine, 3,051 grams of cannabis, 249 grams of MDMA, 719 grams of synthetic cannabis, 7.86 grams of fentanyl (one gram can kill hundreds), 28 grams of mushrooms, 8 grams of alprazolam, 52 grams of oxycodone, 1846 grams of promethazine, as well as 18 firearms and $17,514 in US currency.
Sex, Money, Murder is a nationwide gang started in the 1990s that operates as part of the United Blood Nation.
Law enforcement normally doesn’t name gangs after investigations, but Sheriff Judd said Sex, Money, Murder was “so violent, so dangerous, so ruthless” that they wanted to bring the gang to the community’s attention.
According to Sheriff Judd, the gang is involved in drugs, has committed home invasions, robberies, murders and intimidated witnesses.
He gave several examples of their violent behavior, which included pistol whipping an eight-year-old child during a home invasion and holding a three-month-old baby at gun point during a separate home invasion.
“Evil lurks in our communities,” Moody said. “This gang is particularly dangerous and insensitive to human life. Their gang members are merchants of death.”
Some of the suspects have already been arrested, but there are a few who are still on the run, according to Judd. That includes the gang’s Florida commissioner, the gang’s highest position in the state of Florida, Hernando Thompson.
“He’s not trying to run an organization, he’s running,” Judd said. “He’s wearing out shoes trying to get away from from us.”
The criminal histories of the suspects added up to 1,147 felonies, 161 misdemeanors, and 205 felony convictions. One suspect had 125 previous felony charges all by himself.
The investigation will continue. Future charges are possible.
“Hello gangsters,” Judd said. “We may have charges for you or we may have more charges for you.”
Polk County also started a gang task force in the past year in partnership with other local and state agencies, which has conducted investigations as well as proactive measures against gang activity.
There’s other smaller gangs, “baby gangs” Sheriff Judd called them, operating throughout the state.
A video was shown of a recent drive-by shooting in Polk County by one of these gangs during the press conference.
If you feel your community has gang activity going on, you are encouraged to call the anonymous hotline at **TIPS.