Included in six people indicted in federal court Tuesday in a drug conspiracy that included production and distribution of powerful synthetic opioid were two Walton County residents who are already under indictment on state charges for murder. A third man arrested is the conspiracy also is a Loganville resident. The five men and a woman were indicted by the US Attorney in the Southern District of Georgia in Augusta and have charged with operating a wide-ranging drug conspiracy that included mass production of pills and possession with intent to distribute a powerful synthetic opioid.
Charged in the indictment are:
- Walker Christian Forrester, 24, of Loganville, Ga., and Kolbie Hadden Watters, 22, of Augusta, Ga., charged with Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute and to Distribute Controlled Substances; Using or Maintaining a Drug Premises; Possession with Intent to Distribute Controlled Substances; Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime; Possession of an Unregistered Firearm; and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering. If convicted on all charges, the two face sentences of up to life in prison.
- Larry Overton, 46, of Harlem, Ga., charged with Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute and to Distribute Controlled Substances, and Using or Maintaining a Drug Premises. If convicted, he faces a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
Jonathan Britt Lester, 22, of Loganville, Ga.; Armand Sananda Saedi, 27, of Atlanta, Ga., and Morgan McKenzie Slaton, 22, of Hoschton, Ga., each are charged with Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute and to Distribute Controlled Substances, and if convicted each face sentences of up to five years in prison.
Watters and Lester were arrested in April 2018 and charged with felony murder and aggravated assault in the death of Chase David Loffler, 25, whose body was found buried in the backyard of Lester’s Loganville home. The two are accused of beating and suffocating Loffler, who the US Attorney’s office name as a suspected co-conspirator, and burying his body in a shallow grave. Watter’s father, Gene Watters, was charged with concealing evidence in the case.
According to the six-count indictment in U.S. District Court, and from testimony in court proceedings, the defendants are accused of “participating in a drug conspiracy dating back to 2016 that imported large amounts of drugs purchased with cryptocurrency on the Dark Web, used industrial-grade machinery to manufacture pills, and sold the drugs on the Dark Web and throughout Georgia.”
Each of the defendants, if convicted, also would face substantial fines and terms of supervised release after completion of any prison sentences. There is no parole in the federal system.
According to the indictment, and testimony,
“Forrester first came to the attention of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration around Sept. 2017 after he purchased an industrial-grade pill press. Two months later, Forrester, Watters and a juvenile were arrested on state charges in Harlem, Ga., in November 2017 after a traffic stop in which Harlem police officers found more than 5,200 counterfeit Xanax pills, marijuana and a sawed-off shotgun in the vehicle. In addition to pill presses, investigators allege Forrester also purchased punch dies used to create counterfeit Xanax pills, Alprazolam as the main ingredient, and binding agents to manufacture tens of thousands of pills per month. The illicit ingredients were purchased on the Dark Web using cryptocurrency, with the counterfeit Xanax likewise sold on the Dark Web or through conventional illegal drug distribution channels. The conspirators moved the four pill presses to various locations in the Southern, Northern and Middle Districts of Georgia to avoid detection, and at one point began manufacturing and selling synthetic heroin using Fentanyl and the more-powerful Carfentanil. Overton, who is alleged to have housed one of the pill presses at his Harlem home in return for drugs, was briefly hospitalized during the investigation after overdosing on the synthetic opioids.”
“This case highlights the growing threat of drug trafficking and its associated violent crime fueled by cyber technology,” said Bobby L. Christine, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. “Our federal, state and local law enforcement agencies will continue to overcome these challenges, however, and bring to justice anyone who would distribute poison in our communities.”
“Synthetic opioids, Fentanyl and counterfeit pills continue to be a threat in our communities, and DEA is committed to working with all our law enforcement partners in targeting organizations and individuals that produce and distribute this poison,” Robert J. Murphy, Special Agent in Charge of the Atlanta Drug Enforcement Administration Office said in a press release.
“Opioid abuse is a crisis in our communities and we will continue to be committed to targeting those who compound the problem,” Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta said in the release. “This case is an example of what can be accomplished when federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and their resources are combined to fight this national trend.”
“This is just a small piece of the puzzle in a growing opioid and pill mill problem in the state of Georgia. This scheme involved cryptocurrency and the Dark Web. It also involved other alleged criminal activity touching all three judicial districts within Georgia as those involved showed the lengths they were willing to go to commit various crimes,” said Thomas J. Holloman, Special Agent in Charge of IRS-Criminal Investigations for the Atlanta Field Office. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners in following the money in an effort to dismantle illegal pill mill operations in our state.”
An indictment contains only charges. Defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The case is being investigated under the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF), the centerpiece of the United States Attorney General’s drug strategy to reduce the availability of drugs by disrupting and dismantling major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and related criminal enterprises. Agencies involved in the investigation include the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations (FDA-OCI), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the U.S. Army Criminal Investigative Division (CID), the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the U.S. Marshals Service, and the Harlem Department of Public Safety. The case is being prosecuted for the United States by Assistant United States Attorney Patricia Rhodes.