Members of an Owensboro drug trafficking organization are behind bars and charged with multiple felonies after being caught with 151 pounds of methamphetamine, 3.5 pounds of counterfeit pills with suspected deadly fentanyl, and other drugs, as announced by United States Attorney Russell Coleman.
According to the criminal complaints, from September 2020 to present, federal and local investigative agencies have conducted a long-term investigation into the Willie Watkins Drug Trafficking Organization (DTO) believed to be trafficking in methamphetamine, counterfeit pharmaceutical pills believed to contain fentanyl, and marijuana.
According to the criminal complaints, between Jan. 6-11, Willie Watkins, 30 of Owensboro, coordinated the purchase of approximately 150 pounds of suspected methamphetamine with an unidentified male located in the Los Angeles area, as well as counterfeit pills containing suspected fentanyl from a source in the Phoenix, Ariz. area.
According to the complaints, on Jan. 11 members of the DEA from multiple districts and local law enforcement conducted a traffic stop on a vehicle being operated by another suspected member of the Watkins DTO in Oklahoma City as the vehicle traveled from Arizona toward the Western District of Kentucky.
During a search of the vehicle subsequent to a certified K-9 alert, law enforcement recovered: approximately 151 pounds of crystal methamphetamine, approximately 3.5 pounds of counterfeit pharmaceutical pills suspected of containing fentanyl (contained in Ziploc bags), approximately 21 pounds of marijuana, approximately nine pounds of THC edibles, approximately 14 pounds of THC-related vape products, and approximately one gram of ecstasy.
After learning of the stop, and as monitored by law enforcement over judicially authorized intercepts over Watkins’ telephone, Watkins made several calls to multiple individuals discussing the seizure of the narcotics by law enforcement and the calculated amount of money he had lost as a result.
Following the seizure of the narcotics in Oklahoma City, Watkins was charged in a criminal complaint with conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine and 400 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of fentanyl.
Additionally, according to the criminal complaints, on Jan. 13, federal and local law enforcement executed multiple search warrants at locations associated with the Watkins DTO in Owensboro. As a result of those search warrants, law enforcement seized additional methamphetamine, counterfeit pills containing suspected fentanyl, marijuana, firearms, and over $325,000 in U.S. currency.
Based on the evidence obtained from the long-term investigation and the search warrants, additional members of the Watkins DTO — including Owensboro men Christopher McNary, 31; Richard Cason, 29; Keith Watkins, 28; and Samuel White, 27 — were also charged in a second criminal complaint with conspiring with each other and others to possess with the intent to distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture of a substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine and 400 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of fentanyl.
The potential penalty for that offense is a prison term of 10 years to life, a fine of not more than $10,000,000, and not less than five years of supervised release.
The case is being investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Evansville, Indiana Resident Office, Albuquerque District Office, Phoenix Field Division, Orange County District County Office, Oklahoma City, Flagstaff Resident Office, Paducah POD, Springfield, Missouri, and SOD; The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Bowling Green, Kentucky; Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Oklahoma City; Owensboro Police Department, Daviess Co. Sheriff’s Office; Criminal Interdiction Team of Central Oklahoma; Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office; Oklahoma City Police Department; Arizona Highway Patrol; and the Daviess County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office.
“Traffickers should take heed to keep their poison out of Daviess County and the Western District of Kentucky,” Coleman said. “They disregard at their own peril as federal, state, and local law enforcement here stand united to take their dope and send them to federal prison. Stay tuned; more to come.”
DEA Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Michael Gannon said today was a big win for the citizens of Owensboro.
“The individuals arrested during this investigation were responsible for peddling poison into Owensboro and our surrounding communities,” he said. “Any time we can take this much methamphetamine, fentanyl and firearms off the streets it is huge.”
Gannon said the methamphetamine seized had a street value of almost $7 million and could have provided enough dosage units to fill a capacity crowd at a professional football stadium four times over.
“The DEA Evansville HIDTA Resident Office is committed to working with the Owensboro Police Department and our other federal, state, and local partners to keep our communities safe by investigating and arresting violent drug traffickers,” Gannon said. “The DEA appreciates the exceptional work by all our partners who brought these individuals to justice.”
ATF Special Agent in Charge Shawn Morrow said their office is committed to protecting the public in Western Kentucky.
“This investigation highlights ATF’s work with our law enforcement partners to combat criminal organizations and to make Daviess County a safer place to live,” he said.
Owensboro Police Chief Art Ealum said OPD remains committed to getting narcotics and dangerous offenders off the streets of Owensboro.
“This investigation is undoubtedly the most significant narcotics investigation in our department’s history, which speaks to the magnitude of the drug epidemic in the Owensboro Metropolitan Area,” he said. “Our Street Crimes Unit, along with our federal and local partners, have worked tirelessly to take down this drug trafficking organization.”
Daviess County Sheriff Keith Cain said, “This investigation is yet another example of the strong relationship that exists between local law enforcement and our federal partners. Both are equally committed to ridding our community of the scourge of organized drug trafficking and keeping our citizens safe.”