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Florida officials say dealers used dating apps to sell marijuana, meth and other drugs. Dozens charged in undercover operation

(CNN) After a six-month undercover investigation, authorities in Florida have charged 68 people in connection with the sale of illegal narcotics on the mobile dating apps Grindr, Scruff and Taimi.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office (PCSO) said 60 people have been arrested, and law enforcement has obtained arrest warrants for eight others, according to a news release.

The probe, known as "Swipe Left for Meth," began in July 2021 following a tip to Heartland Crime Stoppers, the release said.

At a news conference Thursday, Sheriff Grady Judd said the dealers would use ice cream cone and birthday cake emojis to signal they were selling drugs as well as code words like "party" and "Tina," which he said stood for methamphetamine.

"It was a shock to us that they were openly advertising," Judd said. "Can you believe that? They were openly advertising that they were selling dope on a dating app."

Undercover narcotics detectives set up profiles on the apps and struck up conversations with people selling methamphetamine, Fentanyl, LSD, Ecstasy, marijuana and cocaine, the release said.

"It was clear during the conversations and ensuing undercover drug buys that the suspects' primary purposes for being on the dating app were to sell drugs -- not to find a date," the release said.

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

"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 ... It is important to note that we cannot access users' direct messaging activity, as it is against our privacy policy," Yana Andyol, head of communications for Taimi said in a statement sent to CNN.

Andyol said the company hasn't received any law enforcement inquiries in the last six months regarding drug-related activity, but will conduct an internal investigation based on the information released by Sheriff Judd's office and will improve moderation to prevent future similar incidents.

"We are, however, concerned over the fact that three distinct LGBTQ+ applications were used to conduct the investigation given the rising stigma surrounding LGBTQ+ communities who are already subject to presumptions," Andyol said.

A spokesperson for the dating app Scruff told CNN they have no comment on the Polk County arrests. Scruff's Terms of Service prohibit using the app for "any illegal purpose" and "commercial or non-private use."

Detectives filed 159 felony and 72 misdemeanor charges over the course of the investigation.

The suspects had a total of 908 previous charges -- 453 prior felonies and 455 misdemeanors, the PCSO said.

Authorities also served search warrants at three addresses, the release said.

During the investigation, the PCSO says it seized 14 firearms, including two reported stolen.

Detectives were able to purchase approximately 280 grams of methamphetamine with a street value of about $14,000 and approximately 3 grams of cocaine, the release said.

The operation also netted about 645 grams of marijuana, 113 grams (130 pills) of Ecstasy, 1.5 grams of Fentanyl/heroin, 28 grams of psychedelic mushrooms and one gram of LSD, the PCSO said.

"Suspects are getting more creative, but so are our detectives... When we find drug dealers, we put them in jail," Judd said in the release.

The PCSO said it would continue to monitor dating apps and encouraged the public to continue to send in tips.