Pill factory used Dark Web to purchase and sell drugs, including synthetic opioids
Four defendants have pled guilty to various roles in a wide-ranging drug conspiracy that included mass production of pills and distribution of powerful synthetic opioids.
The defendants are among six indicted in April on federal charges accusing them 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, said Bobby L. Christine, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. The cases of two of the defendants are not yet resolved.
Entering guilty pleas in U.S. District Court in Augusta are:
- Kolbie Hadden Watters, 22, of Augusta, Ga., pled guilty to Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute and to Distribute Controlled Substances, and Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime. Watters faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years and up to life in prison. He also is under indictment in Walton County, Ga., on state charges of felony murder and aggravated assault of a suspected co-conspirator.
- Jonathan Britt Lester, 22, of Loganville, Ga., pled guilty to Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute and to Distribute Controlled Substances (Carfentanil, Alprazolam and Marijuana) and faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison. Along with Watters, Lester also is under indictment in Walton County, Ga., on state charges of felony murder and aggravated assault of a suspected co-conspirator.
- Armand Sananda Saedi, 27, of Atlanta, Ga., and Morgan McKenzie Slaton, 22, of Hoschton, Ga., have each pled guilty to Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute and to Distribute Controlled Substances (Alprazolam). Each face sentences of up to five years in prison.
Each of the defendants also is subject to fines and penalties, along with supervised release after completion of any prison sentence. There is no parole in the federal system.
According to court documents and testimony, the four were indicted, along with Walker Christian Forrester, 24, of Loganville, Ga., after the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Sept. 2017 began an investigation after Forrester’s purchase of an industrial-grade pill press. Two months later, Forrester, Watters and a juvenile were arrested on state charges in Harlem, Ga., 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.
The indictment in the case alleges that Forrester purchased equipment 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. Forrester’s case is still pending.
The conspirators moved their 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. Another defendant, Larry Overton, 46, of Harlem, Ga., is charged with Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute and to Distribute Controlled Substances, and Using or Maintaining a Drug Premises. His case is still pending.
The case was investigated under the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF), the premier U.S. Department of Justice program to dismantle multi-jurisdictional drug trafficking organizations. 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 U.S. Attorney Patricia Rhodes.