Bothell man’s bit role led to arrests in drug smuggling ring

He got a speeding ticket in California. Now he’s facing life in prison.

BOTHELL — A Snohomish County man’s speeding ticket became a turning point in an investigation that led to charges against more than two dozen people in an international drug-smuggling scheme.

Jeff Walker, 47, was driving a black Ford Explorer in May 2018 when California Highway Patrol officers pulled him over for speeding. Inside the SUV, they found 200 pounds of cocaine, and learned that Walker allegedly had been transporting drugs to Washington state on a regular basis.

Walker told detectives with the Snohomish Regional Drug & Gang Task Force that he worked at the direction of two others: Amy Hartlmueller-Torres, 52, of Maple Valley; and David Joner, 51, of Fall City.

The investigation also pointed detectives to the accused dealers’ unidentified contact in Canada and to Tye McNabb, who worked at an auto body shop in Washington and installed secret compartments in vehicles, including the Ford.

Federal grand juries indicted those five the week of Sept. 2, along with 25 others, in U.S. District Court in California on charges of conspiracy to distribute, and possession with intent to distribute, controlled substances. Charging papers allege they exported hundreds of pounds of narcotics, including cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, from Mexico to Canada. They reportedly used encrypted phones and coded language to coordinate the operation.

If convicted, the defendants could spend the rest of their lives in federal prison.

The case is being investigated by multiple law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Los Angeles Police Department.

Walker played a bit role, according to court papers. He allegedly would drive down to Los Angeles to pick up shipments of drugs and return to Bothell, where he’d swap the car with Joner, who allegedly took the shipment up to Canada.

Joner reportedly then would drop the car back off for Walker, with up to $15,000 in cash inside.

Walker said he had made the trip about 30 times, according to documents. He explained that he had been a struggling car salesman in Seattle when Joner, previously a manager at the dealership, offered him a job transporting drugs. Walker said he “couldn’t pass up an opportunity to make some money,” detectives wrote in the search warrant.

After his arrest in California, Walker agreed to work as a confidential source for the Snohomish drug task force in exchange for leniency. He let detectives download his phone’s data and agreed to replace the drugs with a fake shipment, according to documents. Detectives also placed a GPS tracker on his SUV.

However, when it came time to hand off the vehicle, no one came. Walker had tipped off his accomplices, detectives wrote.

According to the search warrant, Hartlmueller-Torres and Joner were old high school friends who had recently reconnected. At a bar, they ran into another high school friend, McNabb, who said he had been working with a drug cartel that needed more people to move shipments. Hartlmueller-Torres and Joner reportedly agreed to join.

Initially, Joner told investigators that he received money from his various businesses and that the Chinese government paid him directly for his work developing “self-sustaining energy solutions,” according to documents

However, after reviewing state records, investigators discovered that none of Joner’s companies were active. Others involved in those businesses said that the businesses never got off the ground, detectives wrote.

Between September 2016 and May 2018, bank records showed Joner depositing thousands of dollars in cash at a time in an ATM. Detectives believe all of the money came from transporting drugs.

In March 2017, Joner and his wife purchased a $2 million house — even though their previous home, listed at $450,000, was foreclosed on in 2015.

Joner reportedly told his real estate agent that he received money from inventing a three-wheeled car that had gained popularity in China. Again, he appeared to be stretching the truth. He apparently never established a contract with a manufacturer. Moreover, the state charged him with violating the Securities Act of Washington, a car dealership sued him for failing to deliver the vehicles, and investors never got back $372,000 they used to buy stock in the company.

Joner and his wife also apparently bought three cars: a 2012 Jeep Wrangler, a 2011 Chevrolet Avalanche and a Chevrolet Corvette.

On Oct. 31, 2018, detectives were surveilling Joner’s residence in anticipation of impounding the vehicles when they received a call.

It was Joner, saying he had just been attacked by Walker.

Joner said he was working in the garage when Walker suddenly walked up to him demanding money and blaming him for not being able to find a job. Walker allegedly punched Joner several times in the head and knocked him to the ground.

Detectives arrested Walker, then told Joner that they were actually there to impound his vehicles.

The FBI is asking for help finding Hartlmueller-Torres. People with information about her whereabouts should contact the FBI’s nearest field office.

Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; Twitter: @zachariahtb.