KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A Lee’s Summit, Missouri, man has been sentenced in federal court for his leadership role in a multi-million dollar conspiracy that distributed more than 2,000 kilograms of cocaine in the metropolitan area.
“This heavily-armed drug dealer was still on court supervised release for a prior federal drug-trafficking conviction while he was engaged in this drug trafficking conspiracy,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Teresa A. Moore. “A long prison sentence will help protect our community from the violence that always accompanies guns and drugs, and send a clear signal to drug traffickers that their criminal activity won’t be tolerated.”
Howard Christopher Walters, also known as “Chris,” 43, was sentenced by U.S. Chief District Judge Beth Phillips on Tuesday, April 20, to 25 years in federal prison without parole. The court also ordered Walters to forfeit $976,862 to the government, which represents the profit he made from the sale of illegal drugs.
“Today’s sentencing further shows that IRS Criminal Investigation along with its law enforcement partners are working vigorously to stop individuals conspiring to distribute cocaine and commit money laundering offenses. IRS CI will go after those who commit crimes that involve a financial nexus,” said David Talcott, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the IRS Criminal Investigation division in the St. Louis Field Office.
On Aug. 6, 2020, Walters pleaded guilty to participating in a drug-trafficking conspiracy and a money-laundering conspiracy from October 2013 to Nov. 15, 2018. His wife, Nina Walters, 39, was sentenced on April 7, 2021, to a year and a day for her role in the money-laundering conspiracy.
Law enforcement believes that Howard Walters directly distributed approximately 25 kilograms of cocaine during his involvement in the conspiracy. He also sold more than 1,421 kilograms of marijuana. In total, he profited at least $976,862 from the sale of illegal drugs.
“This defendant profited off an industry that makes its money off endangering the safety of our citizens,” said Special Agent in Charge Todd Zimmerman of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Missouri. “Working closely with our federal, state and local partners, we’re committed to dismantling and destroying these drug trafficking organizations that bring their drugs into our communities, and then use those proceeds to fund temporary lavish lifestyles.”
“Walters and his co-conspirators flooded the Kansas City area with more than 2,000 kilograms of cocaine and profited from a multi-million dollar conspiracy in the process. This investigation, prosecution and sentencing demonstrates that the FBI and our law enforcement partners are committed to removing drug traffickers from the streets and protecting our community,” said Timothy Langan, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Kansas City Division.
During the course of the investigation, law enforcement used a confidential source to purchase cocaine directly from Howard Walters on several occasions. During one transaction, the confidential source reported that he saw approximately 15 empty cocaine kilogram wrappers at the residence used by Howard Walters. The source also reported that he observed several kilograms of cocaine in the kitchen cabinets. During the controlled purchase, Walters commented that his source of supply, co-defendant Jesus Campoy-Estrada, 26, of Kansas City, Kansas, received 50 to 60 kilograms of cocaine per delivery. Walters said he purchased 10 to 20 kilograms of cocaine from Campoy-Estrada after each delivery.
On Nov. 19, 2018, federal agents executed a search warrant at the Walters’s residence. Although Howard Walters is prohibited from possessing any firearms, agents seized from his residence a FNH 5.7 x 28mm handgun on the top shelf in the master bathroom closet; a FNH 5.7 x 28mm handgun in a cabinet above a built-in desk in the kitchen; a Taurus Millennium G2 PT111 9mm handgun located under the sink in the master bathroom; a Glock 10mm handgun located under the sink in the master bathroom; a PTR91 .308-caliber rifle on the floor of the master bathroom closet; a Spikes Tactical Model ST-15 multi-caliber rifle; approximately 638 live rounds of 5.7 x 28mm ammunition; 89 rounds of 5.56 x 45mm ammunition; and other assorted ammunition.
Howard Walters also admitted that he used illicit drug proceeds to purchase several vehicles with cash in an effort to conceal the illicit nature of the purchases, including a Cadillac Escalade, a Porsche Panamera, and a Mercedes Benz GLS550 SUV. Nina Walters deposited more cash in her bank accounts than both she and her husband reported to the IRS as their income during those years. Nina Walters knew the cash deposits she made were derived from the illicit activity of Howard Walters.
Campoy-Estrada pleaded guilty to his role in the drug-trafficking conspiracy on Dec. 19, 2019, and awaits sentencing.
Co-defendant Jose Luis Armendariz-Rascon, also known as “Uncle” or “Rambo,” 40, of Kansas City, Kan., pleaded guilty on Jan. 22, 2020, to his role in the drug-trafficking conspiracy and to money laundering. Armendariz-Rascon was in charge of coordinating the transportation of loads of cocaine from the El Paso area to the Kansas City metropolitan area for distribution. Armendariz-Rascon would then coordinate the collection of bulk cash that was sent back to El Paso as payment for the cocaine. Armendariz-Rascon admitted that he coordinated the distribution of 10 to 15 kilograms of cocaine per week for four years, for a total of more than 2,000 kilograms of cocaine.
Co-defendant Otilio Zaragoza-Navarrette, 64, of El Paso, Texas, pleaded guilty to his role in the drug-trafficking conspiracy and was sentenced on Aug. 28, 2020, to five years in federal prison without parole. Zaragoza-Navarrette admitted that he was a drug courier for the drug-trafficking organization, transporting cocaine to the Kansas City metropolitan area and transporting illicit drug proceeds from the drug-trafficking organization back to Texas and/or to Mexico. Zaragoza-Navarrette hid the cocaine and/or the cash proceeds inside of five-gallon gas cans and anti-freeze jugs on his commercial semi-tractor trailer. Officers seized nearly $500,000 in illegal drug proceeds from Zaragoza-Navarrette at the time of his arrest.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Trey Alford and Robert Smith. It was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, IRS-Criminal Investigation and the Lee’s Summit, Mo., Police Department.