A Belfair man who pleaded guilty to his role in a widespread drug trafficking organization – the leaders of which are alleged to have planned the assassination of a Centralia police officer – was sentenced Tuesday to seven years in federal prison.
Of the 17 people charged by federal prosecutors with being part of the international drug ring alleged to have brought dozens of pounds of meth and thousands of fentanyl pills into Western Washington, Curtis Robert Griffin, 43, was the first member to plead guilty and be sentenced.
Griffin was arrested on Nov. 2 during a sweep in which three Kitsap County residents were arrested, including a Port Orchard man accused of leading an armed standoff.
In asking U.S. District Court Judge John C. Coughenour for a sentence of five to six years, Griffin acknowledged any skepticism about his commitment to change paths now.
Griffin has more than a dozen adult felony convictions that have resulted in lengthy prison sentences, including for guns and meth dealing.
In one incident from 1997, Griffin shot a man while in the Wheaton Way Jack in the Box parking lot. At 18, he pleaded guilty to a count of second-degree assault and was sentenced to four years in prison.
Griffin told Coughenour he could offer no excuse, saying he “chose to go down this path.”
“Why now?” Griffin asked rhetorically. “I never was ready before.”
Griffin continued: “I need help. I need to do this to be a good dad and a productive member of society.”
Court records say Griffin has nine children. Following his sentencing Tuesday, Coughenour allowed Griffin for the first time to hold and kiss his infant son who was born while Griffin was in custody.
Griffin’s attorney, Michael Martin, said that Griffin would have pleaded guilty sooner – he pleaded guilty about three months after his arrest – and that Griffin realized the depths of his addiction and wanted help.
“It’s an awful thing,” Martin said of Griffin’s addiction.
Coughenour told Griffin he was sympathetic.
“I believe you, Mr. Griffin, when you say you want to change,” Coughenour said. “The problem is what got you here.”
In February 2020, Drug Enforcement Agency officers began investigating a large-scale drug distribution network allegedly led by Jose Alfredo Maldonado-Ramirez and his girlfriend, Iris Adrianna Amador-Garcia. During the course of the investigation, agents seized or purchased about 168 pounds of methamphetamine and 37,000 fentanyl pills.
In addition to supplying local distributors in Kitsap, Mason, King, Pierce, Thurston and Lewis counties – where leaders intended to bring 100 pounds of meth per month – the organization “appeared” to have sent drugs to the other parts of the country, including Massachusetts, New York, Illinois, Ohio, Florida, Arkansas, Tennessee and Virginia, according to court documents filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In one bust from August 2021, agents in California intercepted more than 19 pounds of meth destined for Fiji, the South Pacific island country.
Of particular concern to investigators were efforts to deliver firearms from the U.S. into Mexico, furthering the drug cartel violence that has plagued that country. In September, Maldonado-Ramirez sought high-powered semi-automatic rifles to be used by his girlfriend’s family members “who were fighting others in Tijuana, Mexico,” Assistant U.S. Attorney C. Andrew Colasurdo wrote in court documents.
“Even more concerning, however, was (the organization’s) brazen threat of harm against a local officer,” Colasurdo wrote.
In October, less than a week after 83 pounds of meth and 20,000 suspected fentanyl pills were seized in Washington state, agents listening to calls between Maldonado-Ramirez and Amador-Garcia allege the woman asked for handguns, saying she had identified the Centralia Police Department officer responsible for the seizure and knew where the officer lived.
“They are going to knock him down,” Amador-Garcia said, according to court documents.
After hearing the call, agents contacted the department so that the officer and his family could be placed in protective custody.
The threat against the officer, Colasurdo wrote, was part of the reason investigators “decided to accelerate” the arrests in late October and early November.
Among those arrested were Joseph Troy Easton and Angelique Marie Easton, a married couple from Bremerton who prosecutors said supplied Griffin.
Also arrested at the same time was Douglas Bryan Healer of Port Orchard, who prosecutors said was at the same level in the hierarchy as Griffin.
In 2017, the Kitsap Sun profiled Angelique Easton for donating pizzas to a local homeless shelter, the Kitsap Rescue Mission, from her job at Westside Pizza. She said she wanted to make a positive contribution to society after a life of crime, noting that she met her husband, Joseph, while on work release and had become a devoted Christian.
“In at least one case, (Angelique Easton) spoke directly with Maldonado-Ramirez on Joseph Easton’s phone about coordinating the shipment of a kilogram of heroin to her workplace (Westside Pizza), and then texted him the address immediately after the call,” prosecutors wrote in court documents.
On Nov. 2, when agents went to arrest Healer at his house in Port Orchard, he allegedly fired a shot inside his house and refused to surrender, leading to an hours-long standoff. When he was finally arrested agents allegedly found 52 firearms in his house.
“Healer has been convicted of multiple felonies, and is prohibited from possessing any firearms,” prosecutors wrote.
When Griffin’s house was raided, investigators found a loaded handgun on a kitchen counter – where two of his young children lived – and a loaded shotgun in a car. In Griffin’s pocket agents found about an ounce of meth.
In asking for an eight-year sentence, Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Diggs said that Griffin had repeatedly been sent to prison for similar crimes.
“Rather than curbing this conduct, it seems he has escalated the quantity and seriousness,’ Diggs told Judge Coughenour.
As a member of the drug ring, Griffin was alleged to have distributed “pound-quantities of methamphetamine.”
Though the investigation started in February 2020, Diggs said he was unsure when Griffin’s involvement started.
“We don’t know how long this went on, or how many pounds of methamphetamine Mr. Griffin distributed,” Diggs said.
Coughenour said Griffin was responsible for funneling “enormous quantities” of drugs into the area – while armed with guns – and he singled out fentanyl as particularly destructive. Court records do not allege Griffin trafficked in fentanyl.
Fentanyl, a powerful and addictive synthetic opioid blamed for an increase in fatal overdoses of drug users, is burning through Puget Sound and Kitsap County. Last week in Kitsap County at least three overdose deaths are suspected of being caused by fentanyl.
“We are losing a lot of young people to fentanyl,” Coughenour said. “Until fentanyl came along I thought methamphetamine was the worst thing.”
In asking for a 96-month sentence, Diggs said though prosecutors appreciated Griffin’s willingness to plead guilty to conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and felon in possession of a firearm, Griffin, of all people, understood the damage he inflicted on others.
“The methamphetamine Griffin introduced into the community undoubtedly fell into the hands of long-time addicts, first-time users and everyone in between,” Colasurdo wrote in court documents. “The number of people Griffin directly and indirectly impacted, while difficult to quantify, is undeniable.”