Four defendants pleaded guilty to committing a variety of crimes in connection with a massive counterfeit Xanax conspiracy in Georgia that included drug production, darkweb drug trafficking, and an alleged homicide.
In 2018, the Walton County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI, DEA, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and Secret Service dug a body out of a shallow grave in Walton County. They identified the victim as 25-year-old Chase Loffler who had disappeared only weeks prior to the discovery of the body.
“This case highlights the growing threat of drug trafficking and its associated violent crime fueled by cyber technology,” Bobby L. Christine, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, said in a statement. “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.”
Law enforcement immediately arrested Jonathan Lester and Kolbie Watters in connection with the homicide. One year after investigators had discovered Loffler’s body, federal authorities unveiled an indictment charging Lester, Watters, and four co-conspirators with participating in a massive drug conspiracy. According to court documents, the group used commercial pill presses to produce tens of thousands of counterfeit Xanax pills every month. In turn, the co-conspirators sold the pills in bulk quantities through the darkweb as well as through traditional channels.
A part of an article from the Atlanta news outlet 11alive:
The conspirators then scattered the four pill presses at locations in southern, northern and middle Georgia to avoid detection, eventually manufacturing and selling synthetic heroin using the deadly opioid, Fentanyl. They also used a more powerful drug to create the synthetic heroin called Carfentanil, prosecutors said.
Overton allegedly housed one of the pill presses in his Harlem home in exchange for drugs. He was briefly hospitalized during the investigation after overdosing on synthetic opioids.
DEA Joins the Case
In late 2018, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) launched an investigation into Walker Christian Forrester, 24, of Loganville, Ga., after the purchase of an industrial pill press had caught the attention of law enforcement. Two months after the investigation into Forrester began, law enforcement had already arrested Forrester and an unidentified juvenile. Harlem police officers had taken both co-conspirators into custody after finding more than 5,200 counterfeit Xanax pills and an unregistered short-barreled shotgun in Forrester’s vehicle.
The federal indictment charged Forrester and Watters with conspiracy to possess with intent 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. Lester caught conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute (carfentanil, alprazolam and marijuana) and distribution of controlled substances charges. Armand Saedi and Morgan Slaton both caught conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribution of alprazolam charges. The sixth defendant, Larry Overton, was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances and using or maintaining a drug premises.
Bobby L. Christine, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, announced that four of the defendants had pleaded guilty to federal charges.
- Watters pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute; distribution of controlled substances; and Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime. He faces state charges of felony murder and aggravated assault in connection with the murder of Loffler, an alleged co-conspirator.
- Lester pleaded guilty to cnspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribution of controlled substances (carfentanil, alprazolam and marijuana). Lester also faces state felony murder and aggravated assault charges for the murder of Loffler.
- Saedi pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute controlled substances (alprazolam).
- Slaton also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute controlled substances (alprazolam).
Forrester has not yet entered a guilty plea and Overton’s case is still pending.
“This is just a small piece of the puzzle in a growing opioid and pill mill problem in the state of Georgia,” said Thomas J. Holloman, special agent in charge of the IRS Criminal Investigations for the Atlanta field office. “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.
Watter faces a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison. Lester faces between ten years and life in prison. Saedi and Slaton face up to five years in prison.