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DIGGING DEEPER: Authorities raid fake thrift store

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TUCSON - A thrift store in central Tucson is out of business.

Police shut it down after a four-month-long investigation. Investigators say it was a front for selling drugs.

In August, Tucson Police Department received numerous complaints from surrounding businesses and residents of Winterhaven, saying there was suspicious activity going on at the business near Fort Lowell Road and Tucson Boulevard.

John Wakefield, who owns Artistry in Glass, told the Digging Deeper Team they called Tucson Police with their concerns.

"We felt honestly that they were ignoring our complaints." Wakefield told News 4 Tucson. "Meanwhile, they were building up information on casing the joint."

Fast forward to Nov. 20 when search warrants were served which ended in several arrests.

Wakefield also said the people going into the thrift shop would harass his clients in the parking lot.

Tucson Police detectives said when the store officially opened its doors in September, the business brought in tens of thousands of dollars by buying and selling drugs.

Sgt. Lorence Jove heads the Bravo Unit and they deal with quality of life issues.

Jove said the community's complaints came to him.

Jove's squad set up surveillance and determined they needed to bring in the Counter Narcotics Alliance - a multi-agency drug task force.

The partnership TPD has with the federal agencies at CNA helped their investigation tremendously.

They were able to put an undercover officer who made multiple drug buys. Detectives said the thrift shop was selling Oxycodone and Xanax.

Sgt. Jove said the lab analyzed the drugs and there was fentanyl in the Oxycodone and the Xanax was counterfeit.

Jove added the suspects were well aware of what they were buying and selling.

The undercover officer sold the thrift shop stolen items such as power tools. He even told the people they were stolen so they traded the drugs for the stolen items.

The shop owner had even struck a deal with the undercover officer to purchase large amounts of drugs on a monthly basis.

Investigators say those drugs that would later be shipped to the Midwest. That never happened, because the business was raided.

"We saw people being handcuffed, we saw furniture being disassembled the place was searched for drugs and we are absolutely delighted with our local police force for doing this for us," Wakefield told News 4 Tucson.

Timothy St. Cyr, a Tucson Police officer assigned to CNA, told News 4 Tucson that the operation to take down the illegitimate business took teamwork.

"Throughout the investigation, they were able to provide assistance in surveillance, manpower, and resources in order to allow the investigation to go as far as it did," Cyr said.

He added, the people who were running the fake thrift store made it difficult for a legitimate business like Artistry in Glass to operate, so removing the thrift shop made the entire area a safer and better place.

Officers seized cash, weapons, and cars.

The four people arrested were Richard Nichols, Marcos Ronquillo, Ignacio Quintero and Evelyn Moon.

Nichols was charged with being a prohibited possessor in possession of a firearm.

Ronquillo faces three counts of sale or transfer of a narcotic drug, three counts attempted trafficking in stolen property, money laundering, control of an illegal enterprise, conspiracy to transfer a narcotic drug.

Quintero is charged with transport of a narcotic drug for sale and transport of a dangerous drug for sale.

Moon faces two counts of sale of narcotize drug, one count sale of dangerous drug, employee of an illegal enterprise.

All the narcotic drug charges are reference to fentanyl and all the dangerous drug charges are reference to alprazolam - the generic name for the drug in Xanax.

Paul Birmingham

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