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Press Release

Marble Hill Man Pleads Guilty to Howell County Drug Trafficking

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Missouri
Airplane and Firearms Seized

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Tammy Dickinson, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced today that a Marble Hill, Mo., man pleaded guilty in federal court to his role in a marijuana trafficking conspiracy in which the government seized his aircraft and dozens of firearms.


Joshua William Vawter, 37, of Marble Hill, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge M. Douglas Harpool on Monday, April 27, 2015, to the charge contained in a Dec. 17, 2013, federal indictment.


By pleading guilty, Vawter admitted that he and a co-conspirator purchased seven duffel bags to transport 91.5 kilograms (202 pounds) of high-grade marijuana from California to Missouri. They placed the marijuana in the duffel bags, a suitcase and two golf bags, and loaded them onto Vawter’s airplane, a Piper PA-32-260, which he piloted. Vawter’s plane landed at West Plains Regional Airport in West Plains, Mo., on Oct. 31, 2013. Law enforcement officers conducted a search of the plane and seized the marijuana and $1,800. Drug Enforcement Administration agents estimate the total street value of the marijuana seized to be $1 million.


The next day DEA agents searched Vawter’s residence and seized 56 firearms from a vault in the basement. Agents also seized a total of $75,000 from the vault (including $18,000 that was hidden in the foam backing of a gun case). Four additional firearms were seized from the master bedroom, for a total of 60 firearms seized from the residence.


Under the terms of today’s plea agreement, Vawter must forfeit to the government the airplane, the firearms and the money that was seized.


Under federal statutes, Vawter is subject to a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $1 million. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.


This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Randall D. Eggert. It was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Air and Marine Operations Center (AMOC) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), DHS Custom and Border Patrol, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Howell County, Mo., Sheriff’s Department, the Bollinger County, Mo., Sheriff’s Department and the Missouri South Central Drug Task Force.

Updated April 28, 2015

Drug Trafficking