Metro Weekly

Florida police use Grindr, Scruff to arrest more than 60 people in drug sting

"Swipe Left for Meth" undercover operation uncovers alleged dealers using dating apps to sell drugs, in violation of terms of service.

grindr, scruff, gay, police, drugs
Photo by Jonas Leupe on Unsplash

Florida authorities arrested more than 60 people in a drug sting in which alleged perpetrators used Grindr and other LGBTQ dating apps to deal drugs.

As part of the six-month operation, dubbed “Swipe Left for Meth,” undercover detectives used dating apps like Grindr, Scruff, and Taimi — primarily targeted toward men who have sex with men — to start conversations with people suspected of buying and selling drugs online. The investigation was prompted by a tip from the Heartland Crime Stoppers informing the Polk County Sheriff’s Office that people were using the dating apps to sell various types of illegal drugs to other users.

The operation, which began last July, resulted in more than 60 arrests, with detectives obtaining warrants for at least eight other suspects still at large. During the course of the investigation, detectives were able to purchase approximately 280 grams of methamphetamine with a street value of $14,000 and 3 grams of cocaine, according to a news release from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

Detectives also recovered 645 grams of marijuana, 113 grams, or 130 pills, of ecstasy, 1.5 grams of fentanyl/heroin, 28 grams of psychedelic mushrooms and one gram of LSD. The sheriff’s office reported seizing 14 firearms, including two that had been reported stolen, while arresting the alleged drug dealers. 

Speaking at a news conference in which he smugly lobbed verbal barbs at drug and prison reform advocates, political liberals, and even prosecutors in the the state of California, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd bragged of the operation’s success while painting those arrested as threats to public safety and children, whom he claimed could access Grindr, Scruff, and Taimi on any phone, despite being designated for people over the age of 18.

At one point, Judd held up one of the rifles seized in the sting to demonstrate his point that drug dealing is a dangerous endeavor that deserves to be punished with jail time and should not be considered a “low-level” offense.

Throughout the news conference, Judd seemed to relish disclosing the identities and past criminal records of some of the men ensnared by the sting, whom he labeled “bad men” and “bad dudes.” Fifty-two people were charged with selling illegal narcotics, while 16 others were charged for other drug-related offenses.

In total, detectives filed 159 felony charges and 72 misdemeanor charges against suspects, who, taken together, have rap sheets that include up to 453 prior felonies and 455 prior misdemeanors, according to The Hill.

Judd said that suspects are “getting more creative” in how they market themselves on the apps, using special code words and emojis to hide their intent to deal drugs. Judd said that officers were able to identify some of the alleged dealers by looking for keywords in profiles, such as “Tina,” the capital letter T, “ice cream,” “cake,” and “party” before beginning conversations with them, at which point, sellers would make an offer to undercover officers.

He even recounted the story of one arrest in which an undercover officer went into a house with a dealer to find two people engaged in a sexual act, with the dealer not even bothering to complete the sale, instead telling the officer to grab the drugs on the table and leave. In another instance, police apprehended 13 other people at the house of one of the alleged dealers who had arranged to meet with undercover officers in order to sell product.

“Now I ask you, what have we got going on here?” Judd said. “How have we arrived where you think it’s safe enough to sell drugs on an app to anyone, to advertise wide open, to not stop your doing the ‘wild thing’ long enough to complete the sale? This is the most bizarre thing we’ve seen in a while.”

grindr scruff police drugs
Sheriff Grady Judd – Photo: Polk County Sheriff’s Office, via YouTube.

He also vowed that his officers would continue to monitor social media and dating apps for illegal drug transactions, and encouraged the public to continue providing tips to law enforcement about illegal online drug sales, noting that those who provide tips may be eligible for a cash reward.

While Judd acknowledged, in response to a reporter’s question, that Grindr and Scruff and Taimi are legitimate dating apps, he said that those who contacted undercover officers were using the app primarily to sell drugs.

“No one hit us up for a date,” he said. “It was all about selling drugs.”

The dating apps referenced by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office reiterated that using the app to sell drugs is prohibited under terms that users agree to when they download the apps.

“The sale of drugs or any illegal activity on Grindr is strictly prohibited as a violation of our Community Guidelines and Terms of Service,” Bill Shafton, vice president of business and legal affairs for Grindr, said in a statement provided to CNN. “Our moderation team works hard every day to ban bad actors while maintaining the privacy and security of our users.”

“Taimi is a socially responsible company that strongly discourages and does its best to prevent any illegal or aggressive activity against users within the app. Our app algorithms block suspicious activities that may violate the rules of our community, including drug dealing, which is fairly noted by the Sheriff’s investigation report,” Yana Andyol, head of communications for Taimi, said in a statement.

Andyol told CNN that the company will conduct an internal investigation based on the information released by Sheriff Judd’s office and will improve moderation to prevent future similar incidents — although she also noted that the company is “concerned” that LGBTQ applications were primarily used to conduct the investigations, noting that there are often stereotypes and “presumptions” made about the LGBTQ community and drug use.

A spokesperson for Scruff declined to comment on the sting. The app’s Terms of Service prohibit using it for “any illegal purpose” and “commercial or non-private use.”

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