The five men recently arrested during what officials called the “most significant drug seizure” in Owensboro history had a variety of narcotics and drug-trafficking charges attached to their names. Those individuals are now federal inmates after their drug trafficking operation was caught with roughly 151 pounds of methamphetamine and 3.5 pounds of counterfeit pills with suspected deadly fentanyl, among other drugs, weapons and a large amount of cash.
On Tuesday, federal and local law enforcement agencies jointly announced the results of a long-term investigation into the Willie Watkins Drug Trafficking Organization (DTO).
Willie Watkins, 30; Christopher McNary, 31; Richard Cason Jr., 29; Keith Watkins, 27; and Samuel White, 29 — all of Owensboro — were charged earlier this month with conspiracy to possess and distribute 500 grams or more of a substance including methamphetamine, and conspiracy to possess and distribute 400 grams or more of a substance containing fentanyl.
More details on the seizure and investigation can be found here.
Willie Watkins had been in trouble for trafficking drugs at least three times before his latest arrest.
In 2016, the Owensboro Police Department charged Watkins with first-degree trafficking in a controlled substance (meth) and promoting contraband in the first degree. In December 2009, OPD charged Watkins with two counts of trafficking in cocaine, and he was charged with one count of trafficking in cocaine in November 2009.
Christopher McNary had faced charges in Sept. 2017 for first-degree trafficking in a controlled substance (date rape drug) that exceeded 10 dosage units. McNary was also charged in Dec. 2017 for trafficking in meth. Both of those arrests were conducted by the Muhlenberg County Sheriff’s Office.
McNary was charged again in Christian County with two counts of trafficking in methamphetamine. In Sept. 2013, OPD charged McNary with fourth-degree assault, marking the third time in five years or less that he had received the charge.
Richard Cason was charged with trafficking in a controlled substance within 1,000 yards of a school in 2011.
Keith Watkins was charged by OPD with trafficking in marijuana and first-degree wanton endangerment of a police officer in Dec. 2019.
Samuel White was charged with possession of a controlled substance (drug unspecified) and violation of an Emergency Protective Order/Domestic Violence Order by Kentucky State Police in May 2019.
Major crimes — involving shootings and/or dangerous narcotics — have been on the rise in Owensboro, as have overdose deaths. Officials couldn’t confirm exactly how many were related to the bust of the DTO, but that some open cases were connected.
“The [federal] arrests are directly related to a variety of ongoing cases we are working, including, but not limited to, shootings and drug overdoses,” OPD Public Information Officer Andrew Boggess said.
Fentanyl — a deadly substance that is often cut into other drugs, such as meth — is also sold in the form of counterfeit prescription pills. Last October, Daviess County Coroner Jeff Jones told Owensboro Times his office has seen a definite uptick in fentanyl-related deaths this year.
“We’ve had 3-4 cases this past year that have been fentanyl-related,” Jones said at the time. “Compared to previous years, that’s an increase.”
At that time, local law enforcement officials also confirmed seeing an increase of fentanyl use and possession over recent months.
On Tuesday, Owensboro Times reported that Watkins’ DTO was believed to have been responsible for more than 90% of the fentanyl brought into the City of Owensboro.
County Coroner Jeff Jones said Tuesday that a definitive increase in the number of fatal fentanyl-related drug overdoses had occurred over the last year, though he wasn’t immediately able to provide specific statistics.
U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman said Tuesday that the recent drug bust was just the first installment of a successful partnership between local, state and federal agencies that aimed to reduce drug-related criminal activity in the Owensboro area.
“One single dose is what’s important to every family,” he said. “You’re talking about 500,000 doses in that 151 pounds of meth. Plus, we’re talking a significant amount of fentanyl, which is the killer. Our overdose numbers are driven by fentanyl. We’re seeing an increased overdose in meth as well across the Commonwealth, but fentanyl is what drives our overdoses.”
Coleman said this bust is a promise delivered after local, state and federal agencies held a drug summit in Owensboro late last year.
“I promised several months ago you would see (federal agencies) more present here,” he said. “And you will see us more present here going forward. This is an installment. Stay tuned.”