Columbus drug trafficking case implicates defendants in 1994 homicide

They were just teenagers then, facing trial on charges related to a deadly row that started with a neighborhood quarrel over a stolen bike.

Now, approaching middle age, they again find themselves co-accused.

Patrick Saultz, 44, and Michael Fowler, 45, were named last week in a sweeping federal indictment charging them and nine others with conspiracy to peddle large amounts of fentanyl, cocaine and crack throughout Greater Columbus, primarily from the Hilltop and Franklinton drug houses. , including one within sight of an elementary schoolyard. The investigation by local, state and federal agencies spanned two years and led to the seizure of a cornucopia of drugs, $1.5 million in cash and 44 firearms.

Federal investigators say Saultz and another man, Cordell Washington, were leaders of an organization that moved large amounts of dope and then laundered the proceeds using deposits in other people’s bank accounts and a range of limited liability companies.

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A look at the backgrounds of the defendants reveals that, for most, this is far from their first foray into the criminal justice system, with drug trafficking charges dating back 30 years.

Fowler and Saultz have a shared history, one involving the city’s murderous past.

The two were juveniles facing an adult trial in Franklin County Common Pleas Court in connection with the death of 25-year-old Laray Jamison, who was shot in a Summit Street alley on June 12, 1994.

The case against Fowler and Saultz, judging by reports from The Dispatch at the time, was not open and closed.

Jurors acquitted Saultz of accessory to aggravated murder and possession of a disabled weapon, although a witness testified that Saultz gave Fowler the weapon he later used in the murder.

Fowler maintained that he shot Jamison in self-defense, after Jamison made a sudden movement with his arm that Fowler perceived as a threat. The jurors are deadlocked, prompting the judge to declare a mistrial. Before he could stand trial again, Fowler pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and headed to state prison.

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The acquitted Saultz will follow soon after. Court records show he was entangled in criminal drug cases within two years of his acquittal, which led to an 8-year prison sentence in 1997.

If the case involving the Laray Jamison shooting wasn’t a slam-dunk, the one now facing Saultz and Fowler looks much stronger to federal prosecutors. And they put Saultz at the top of the ring.

“As charged, the defendant is at the top of a massive drug trafficking scheme,” reads Saultz’s detention order pending trial. “He dealt drugs for two years (during the investigation), including while he was released on state indictment.

“Furthermore, the government exhibits show the defendant’s connections to residences that were

used in a major drug operation,” the order continues. “When these residences were searched, significant narcotics and firearms were seized.

Federal authorities have tapped phone conversations and repeatedly relied on confidential informants to build their case, but court documents suggest Saultz wasn’t making the best decisions. Maybe he got arrogant.

A co-defendant identified in court records as Saultz’s girlfriend told him in a recorded call that he was doing the same things that had gotten him in trouble before. And that advice to be more careful, if you can believe it, came from a woman who had just overdosed after smuggling fentanyl into the Franklin County Jail using her soldiers, investigators claim in their complaint.

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By then, Saultz and his entourage must have known they were under increased surveillance by law enforcement. There had been traffic stops and raids on drug houses in the previous months.

Yet after Fowler was hit last month by the State Highway Patrol while driving a car carrying nine ounces of fentanyl, he called his former pal on what turned out to be another tapped call.

“Fowler told Saultz the drugs were intercepted,” the investigators wrote. “In this call, Fowler asks Saultz for help with an attorney. Saultz told Fowler he would and asks Fowler if he wanted to come back to Columbus. Fowler told Saultz he didn’t know if he had enough money, and Saultz said they’d work it out.”

Over the next day, the couple spoke several times by phone and text, investigators said. But the subject of the conversation had changed.

All signs pointed, according to investigators, to a return to drug trafficking.

Theodore Decker is the columnist for Metro Dispatch.

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