Crime & Courts

SC drug kingpin who helped Girl Scouts pleads guilty to trying to kill prosecutor

SC drug kingpin who helped Girl Scouts pleads guilty to attempting to kill prosecutor

South Carolina drug kingpin Detric McGowan pleaded guilty in federal court Aug. 1, 2019, to plotting to assassinate a federal prosecutor. Earlier this year, McGowan received publicity for helping a local Girl Scout troop. (Video has no sound)
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South Carolina drug kingpin Detric McGowan pleaded guilty in federal court Aug. 1, 2019, to plotting to assassinate a federal prosecutor. Earlier this year, McGowan received publicity for helping a local Girl Scout troop. (Video has no sound)

A millionaire South Carolina drug kingpin who received nationwide publicity earlier this year for helping Girl Scouts sell cookies has pleaded guilty in federal court to plotting to assassinate a federal prosecutor and two witnesses in the case.

The prosecutor’s assassination was to have been carried out by means of a pipe bomb, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Peavy told U.S. Judge Donald Coggins during a 75-minute hearing at the federal courthouse in downtown Spartanburg.

The purported killer-for-hire would have been paid $20,000 to kill the prosecutor as well as two witnesses in the drug trafficker’s trial, Peavy said.

At the end of the hearing Thursday, drug trafficker Detric “Fat” McGowan, 46, of Greenwood County, pleaded guilty to various charges, including attempting to kill the prosecutor and two witnesses and various counts of money laundering and drug trafficking. Other charges against him were dropped.

Neither the targeted prosecutor’s name, nor the names of the intended victims who were witnesses, have been made public in court or in public records about the case.

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Court papers said the prosecutor McGowan wanted to kill was working on the drug case against McGowan when the plot on her life got underway.

The plot was discovered when a cellmate of McGowan contacted law enforcement officials to tell them that McGowan had offered him money to kill the prosecutor and two witnesses. The FBI was contacted and put a miniature recording device in a place where authorities could tape conversations McGowan was having about the intended killings, Peavy said.

Recordings with McGowan’s voice on it provided indisputable evidence of the plot.

McGowan was arrested in February on federal drug trafficking charges and has been held at the Spartanburg County detention center. At Thursday’s hearing, he was dressed in an orange jump suit, orange socks and orange slippers and his feet and hands were shackled.

When eventually sentenced for the drug charges and assassination attempt, McGowan could get up to life in prison, court records said. McGowan did little talking during Thursday’s hearing, other than to reply “Yes, sir” and “No, sir” as the judge explained the various rights he was giving up by pleading guilty.

Documents did say that the plot on the prosecutor’s life took place in July.

Court records said that law officials are in the process of seizing $3.2 million “in the possession or control” of McGowan.

In February, a Facebook posting about McGowan’s buying $540 worth of Girl Scout cookies so the Girl Scouts would not have to stand out in freezing cold and rain went viral. The girls were standing in front of a Bi-Lo in Mauldin, a town of some 15,000 in Greenville County, when McGowan noticed them and bought the cookies.

News accounts in outlets such as CBS News and HuffPost praised McGowan as being a “hero” and “Good Samaritan” — a Biblical reference meaning someone who goes out of his or her way to be helpful and kind.

For more than a year before McGowan was hailed nationwide as a model citizen, he and alleged fellow drug traffickers were under intense investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration. DEA agents posed as members of a Mexican drug cartel. So far, federal officials have seized more than $1.5 million in the case, two properties, firearms and numerous drugs. The investigation included surveillance cameras, tapped telephones and DEA undercover agents.

Within a week of being called a hero for helping the Girl Scouts, however, McGowan made another kind of news — he was one of 11 people charged in a federal indictment for importing heroin, cocaine and fentanyl from Mexico, among other charges.

McGowan and his alleged associates were identified in court papers filed by FBI agent Lisa Quillen as “high volume counterfeit pill suppliers” in the Greenwood, South Carolina, area and elsewhere.

Court papers said McGowan was a key figure in an opioid epidemic around the Greenwood area that started in 2016 and has involved “a marked increase in the number of drug overdose deaths and overdose non-fatalities” due to heroin and fentanyl, according to records in the case. McGowan and his associates were “high-volume counterfeit pill suppliers” and had pill presses —machines that turn out fake prescription narcotic lookalike drugs — that allowed them to mass-produce the pills.

A major break that led to the indictment of McGowan and his alleged associates came in September 2018, when the DEA learned that a person from South Carolina — not identified in court records — tried to strike up a business relationship with a Mexican cartel and traveled to Las Cruces, New Mexico, to discuss the proposed deal. That person wanted to buy “multi-kilogram quantifies of heroin and cocaine,” court papers said.

Unknown to the South Carolinian, however, the DEA had been made aware of the proposed deal and had inserted an undercover agent to help broker the deal. At that meeting, the South Carolinian ordered what he believed would be 10 kilograms of cocaine for $28,000 per kilogram and 10 kilograms of “China White,” a street name for high grade heroin mixed with fentanyl, for $48,000 per kilogram — a total of $760,000.

McGowan, who according to court records describes himself as a “ nightclub party promoter,” is a former federal prison inmate and has two convictions, from 1997 and 2009, for distributing drugs.

His alleged drug ring was so sophisticated that it maintained two “stash houses” where various drugs could be stored, and numerous bank accounts where they could make multiple deposits of money so as not to attract suspicion. McGowan kept his cash deposits under $10,000 so banks would not file currency transaction reports, which are intended to alert federal authorities to illegal activities, court records said.

McGowan won’t be sentenced until a later date.

McGowan is represented by former U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy and Ryan Beasley, nephew of former S.C. Gov. David Beasley. Gowdy, who is with the Nelson Mullins law firm in Columbia, was not in court Thursday.

Federal prosecutors on the case are Peavy, Jim May, Andrew Moorman Sr., Sloan Ellis, Leesa Washington and Kathleen Stoughton.

John Monk has covered courts, crime, politics, public corruption, the environment and other issues in the Carolinas for more than 40 years. A U.S. Army veteran who covered the 1989 American invasion of Panama, Monk is a former Washington correspondent for The Charlotte Observer. He has covered numerous death penalty trials, including that of the Charleston church killer, Dylann Roof.