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Fentanyl traffickers admit guilt, forfeit more than $200,000

WHEELING, WEST VIRGINIA – A Cleveland man and a Wheeling woman pled guilty today to fentanyl trafficking charges, admitting that they conspired to distribute significant quantities of the lethal drug.

Solomon Eli Watters, 27, of Cleveland, and Chelsea Marion Banks, 26, of Wheeling, appeared in federal court today and admitted to a conspiracy to distribute fentanyl and cocaine base.  According to the evidence presented, Watters was stopped by the Wheeling Police Department in February 2022 during which officers executed a search warrant on an Audi A7 that he was driving.  During the search, officers located $3,556 in cash and a Walther .380 caliber pistol, which had been reported stolen.  Officers then executed a search warrant at a residence shared by Watters and Banks in Wheeling wherein they located two more pistols, ammunition, digital scales, and cocaine base.

Additional search warrants were obtained for storage units located in Washington, Pennsylvania, rented by Banks. The searches yielded 1.26 kilograms of fentanyl and an additional $208,860 in cash.

“Fentanyl continues to be the greatest threat to public safety facing the Northern Panhandle,” said United States Attorney William Ihlenfeld. “By seizing such a large quantity of the drug, the officers in this case prevented potential overdoses and removed a major distributor from the supply chain.”

In addition to the firearms and ammunition, $212,416 in United States currency and the Audi A7 will be forfeited.

Watters faces a minimum of 10 years and up to life in prison. Banks faces up to 20 years in prison. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed will be based upon the seriousness of the offenses and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendant.

The Wheeling Police Department; the Ohio Valley Drug Task Force, a HIDTA-funded initiative; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives; and the Pennsylvania State Police investigated.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Shawn M. Adkins is prosecuting the case on behalf of the government.  

U.S. Magistrate Judge James P. Mazzone presided.

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