LOUISVILLE, Ky. – United States District Court Judge Claria Horn Boom today sentenced Dante Watts, 49, of Louisville, Kentucky, to 34 years in federal prison, followed by a life term of Supervised Release for conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and money laundering, announced Acting United States Attorney Michael A. Bennett. On December 20, 2019, a federal jury convicted and returned guilty verdicts following almost two weeks of testimony. There is no parole in the federal system.
“I commend Assistant U.S. Attorneys Bonar and Sullivan for their exemplary work and leadership during the investigation and trial of this case,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Bennett. The tireless effort and outstanding work of the DEA and IRS agents who investigated the case, as well as the work of their state and local counterparts, ensured a successful prosecution. Our community is safer now as a result of their professionalism and sacrifice. The lengthy prison sentence serves notice of the consequences to those who traffic illegal drugs in the Western District.”
The Second Superseding Indictment charged Watts, along with 6 codefendants, for his involvement in a major drug trafficking organization responsible for distributing millions of dollars’ worth of narcotics in Louisville between May and July of 2016. The case arose out of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) wiretap investigation and culminated with the execution of multiple federal search warrants on July 2, 2016 which resulted in the seizure of 31.9 kilograms of cocaine and 4.6 kilograms of heroin in a semi tractor-trailer and other drugs found in multiple locations, including 375 grams of methamphetamine. Agents also seized over $800,000 cash from the sale of narcotics.
The DEA executed another search warrant at Watts’ residence located on Blackthorn Trace in eastern Jefferson County on July 8, 2016. During the search, federal agents found over 6 kilograms of fentanyl in various locations in the kitchen along with a loaded firearm, several blenders utilized to mix drugs in the kitchen, and multiple boxes of plastic baggies and mixing agents. Agents found an additional firearm in Watts’ attached garage, along with empty kilo wrappers. Agents also located a high-tech surveillance system installed in and around the house, and a money counter was also found.
The DEA investigation revealed that Watts and codefendant Ismael Gonzalez received the narcotics from Mexican suppliers. Multiple intercepted phone conversations between Watts and Gonzalez showed that Gonzalez arranged for the shipment of drugs from the southern U.S. border to Louisville by semi-tractor trailer. Once the drugs arrived in Louisville, Gonzalez would oversee the transport to Watts, who would then direct distribution on the streets. Watts would then collect the proceeds of drug sales and send cash back to the suppliers through Gonzalez.
“Mr. Watts and his criminal enterprise caused a great deal of harm to people of this community; he was given many chances, and every time he flouted the mercy of the criminal justice system,” said Special Agent in Charge Todd Scott, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Louisville Division. “His sentence today is considerable but justified; long delayed justice for a lengthy criminal career.”
From May 2015 through July of 2016, the IRS showed that Watts spent over $4.2 million dollars which included over $3.5 million dollars in cash casino purchases as well as the purchase of real property. Also, the Court forfeited Watts’ interest in his home on Blackthorn Trace, over $428,000 in cash, over $89,000 seized from an account, 2 loaded firearms, and a gold Breitling for Bentley with 596 diamonds (DEA previously forfeited over $400,000 in cash seized during the investigation).
“IRS CI is committed to following the money in narcotics investigations,” said Bryant Jackson, Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation, Cincinnati Field Office. “By tracing the funds, we were able to show how Watts used the narcotics proceeds at casinos and to purchase property.”
Watts has multiple prior felony convictions for a variety of serious offenses including narcotics trafficking, wanton endangerment, and burglary. Watts previously served 14 years in prison in Indiana for dealing cocaine. In 2016, Watts pled guilty to assault in the second degree after having been charged with kidnapping and brutally torturing his own cousin over a drug debt. Watts was accused of chaining his cousin’s legs together, pushing him down basement steps, pistol whipping him and fracturing his eye sockets, and then slicing him several times with a butcher knife. The victim escaped and fled through backyards in St. Mathews with Watts giving chase.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Robert Bonar and Amy Sullivan. The investigation was led by the DEA, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division, the Louisville Metro Police Department, Kentucky State Police, and the Jeffersontown Police Department.