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CROWN POINT  — Calling it the "most successful year on record," the Lake County Sheriff’s office said the department's Drug Task Force seized more than $1.2 million in illegal drugs, secured nearly 400 felony and misdemeanor charges against individuals and identified nearly 100 gang members in 2016.

Lake County Sheriff John Buncich in a news release credited the 255 anonymous tips received from the public for the task force’s successful year. That’s up from the 87 tips received in 2015, according to department data.

Ninety-five gang members were identified and 43 search warrants and raids were carried out in 2016, roughly doubling the task force's operations from 2015, according to data.

In all, police recovered about seven ounces of crack; 62 ounces of cocaine; 11,400 ecstasy pills; 68.8 ounces of heroin; 253 prescription pills; 5,000 Xanax pills; 7.6 ounces of synthetic marijuana and 250 marijuana plants.

In light of the Region's heroin epidemic, the sheriff dedicated more personnel to the task force as part of the unit’s strategy to target upper-level drug dealers, said Mark Back, spokesman for the Lake County Sheriff’s Department. 

The uncovering of a drug trafficking operation near Crown Point High School marked the unit’s most significant drug bust, Back said. The investigation led to the seizure of more than $65,000 in drugs and cash — including 5,000 Xanax pills.

Petar Velkov, 20, of Crown Point, was arrested Feb. 27 for his alleged involvement, believed to be working with a network of others, both juveniles and adults, to supply drugs to area students, and on university campuses statewide and in the Region.

Velkov allegedly bought the drugs by mail order and drugs were shipped to Indiana from as far as Georgia, California and Washington, Buncich said.

Back recently said the investigation is ongoing and could not provide further updates. 

A year-end narcotics warrant sweep carried out by the Lake County Drug Task Force and law enforcement partners resulted in 30 new arrest warrants issued for individuals possessing or selling controlled substances. 

The Lake County Drug Task Force worked in conjunction with the Lake County prosecutor’s office, Porter County sheriff’s police, LaPorte County Narcotics Division and the HIDTA Investigative Support Center throughout the investigations. 

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Public safety reporter

Lauren covers North Lake County government, breaking news, crime and environmental issues for The Times. She previously worked at The Herald-News in Joliet. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting.