Lead defendant pleads guilty in drug conspiracy that produced, distributed powerful synthetic opioid
Final plea of defendants completes federal prosecution
AUGUSTA, GA: A Georgia man who operated an industrial-scale illegal pill-manufacturing operation has admitted to the main charge in a drug trafficking conspiracy, representing the final guilty plea among the defendants.
Walker Christian Forrester, 25, of Loganville, Ga., entered a guilty plea in U.S. District Court in Augusta to Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute and to Distribute Controlled Substances (Carfentanil, Alprazolam and marijuana), said Bobby L. Christine, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia.
The charge carries a penalty of up to life in prison, and there is no parole in the federal system.
“This drug trafficking conspiracy distributed massive amounts of dangerous illegal drugs, including deadly synthetic opioids, throughout the streets of Georgia and through the Dark Web,” said U.S. Attorney Christine. “Our federal, state and local law enforcement agencies did outstanding work in investigating and shutting down these merchants of misery and bringing them to justice, where substantial federal prison terms await.”
Other defendants who have pled guilty in the conspiracy are:
- Kolbie Hadden Watters, 23, of Augusta, Ga., who 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;
- Jonathan Britt Lester, 23, of Loganville, Ga.; who pled guilty to Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute and to Distribute Controlled Substances (Carfentanil, Alprazolam and marijuana);
- Armand Sananda Saedi, 28, of Atlanta, Ga., who pled guilty to Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute and to Distribute Controlled Substances (Alprazolam); and,
- Morgan McKenzie Slaton, 23, of Hoschton, Ga., who pled guilty to Conspiracy to Distribute and Possession with Intent to Distribute a Controlled Substance (Alprazolam).
According to court documents and testimony, the co-defendants participated 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. At its peak, the operation produced as many as 200,000 pills per month, yielding profits of up to $18,000 per month.
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 charges in the drug conspiracy, Watters and Lester also face state charges in Walton County of 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 in April 2018. The two are accused of beating and suffocating Loffler, a suspected co-conspirator, and burying his body in a shallow grave.
All six defendants face sentencing at a later date.
“Addressing the country’s opioid epidemic continues to be one of DEA’s top priorities,” said Robert J. Murphy, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division. This defendant ran an industrial illegal pill-manufacturing operation that delivered deadly doses of poison (namely synthetic opioids) to the community. DEA, its law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to deploy every available resource to stop such criminals like this defendant from distributing these dangerous and potentially deadly substances.”
“This case demonstrates the commitment of law enforcement agencies at every level to end an epidemic in our society that is killing our citizens,” said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “The fact that this defendant faces a potential life sentence is an example how serious this crime is and a warning to anyone else who might contemplate doing the same.”
“Dark Web purchases provide a false sense of anonymity to criminals who believe their actions will be invisible to law enforcement. These illegally imported pill presses, producing thousands of counterfeit pills an hour, can wreak havoc on a community,” said acting Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) operations in Georgia and Alabama. “These guilty pleas are a testament to the resolve of the entire law enforcement community to combat the opioid crisis and get these dangerous pills off the streets.”
“The illegal manufacture and distribution of opioids can result in overdoses and deaths, fueling the national opioid crisis,” said Special Agent in Charge Justin D. Green, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Office of Criminal Investigations Miami Field Office. “The FDA remains committed to working with our law enforcement partners to disrupt and dismantle illegal prescription drug manufacturing and distribution networks, including those that import illicit raw materials from overseas to make counterfeit drugs, and misuse the internet to distribute those drugs with reckless disregard of the risk to public health and safety.”
“Criminals need to clearly understand that law enforcement agencies across the globe work together daily to root out crime,” said Christopher Grey, spokesperson for the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID). “We share information and continually support each other's investigations. There is no better example of that interagency cooperation than this case and how one piece of information led to more and more evidence to unravel this dangerous drug trafficking conspiracy.”
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 Command (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.