CONROE – A former Willis resident who became an international fugitive after posting bond on aggravated possession of a controlled substance (cocaine) charges in 2008 was sentenced on Friday after prosecutors say he had a last minute change of heart and accepted a previously rejected plea agreement. The North Montgomery County man was named in a capital investigation in an adjoining county with ties to former NFL star Michael Vick.
William David Townsend, Jr., 35 was sentenced to 25 years in prison for aggravated first-degree felony possession of a controlled substance in the 410th District Court of Judge K. Michael Mayes. The charge carried a possible sentence of 15 years to life in prison.
Assistant District Attorney Barry Rienstra offered the plea bargain after Townsend was handed over to the US by Mexican authorities in June, but Townsend initially requested a trial, which was scheduled to begin on Monday, according to prosecutor Mike Tiffin, who originally handled the case. Rienstra was the third prosecutor to take the reigns.
Townsend first gained notoriety when he was arrested in May of 2007 following a long-term investigation by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Special Investigations Unit, as he allegedly attempted to purchase 5 kilos of cocaine in South Montgomery County.
Townsend was charged with aggravated possession of a controlled substance (cocaine), which is an unusual charge that applies only to drugs weighing over 400 grams; second-degree felony illegal investment; state jail felony money laundering; two counts of first-degree felony delivery of a controlled substance and second-degree felony delivery of a controlled substance.
At the time, the SIU suspected Townsend was involved in a multi-state drug-trafficking operation, a capital murder, and illegal dog fighting and cockfighting.
Townsend’s wife, Tabitha, was subsequently arrested at their Willis residence, where SIU Lt. Philip Cash said, in an interview conducted at that time, that the couple and several other suspects were trafficking large quantities of prescription pills and large amounts of cocaine. Liberty County law enforcement had also investigated William Townsend’s possible involvement in the death of Thomas Weigner, Jr., a man well-known in the criminal world of dog fighting. Weigner was brutally murdered during a 2006 home invasion, when he was tied up and shot in the leg then allowed to bleed to death. At the time of Weigner’s murder, authorities were investigating a possible link between him, Townsend, and former NFL star Michael Vick.
When arrested by the SIU, Townsend was in possession of $78,000 in cash and over $4,000 more was found in his home, where investigators also seized 12 firearms, surveillance equipment, illegal and prescription drugs including methamphetamine and Xanax. Several of the guns were loaded and easily accessible. One had a high powered scope. ATF agents were called to the scene to remove a fragmentation grenade, which was stored in an ice chest on the front porch.
Montgomery County Animal Control seized numerous fighting roosters and Pit Bulls from Townsend’s residence.
Investigators reported the discovery of evidence Townsend shipped illegal drugs to New York, Tennessee and Pennsylvania, and that money was shipped back to Texas, in addition to links to East Coast street gangs and drug dealers in Montgomery and surrounding counties.
In November of 2008, Townsend was released on nearly $300,000 bond with the help of three co-signers. On January 11, 2008, authorities and a local bonding company realized he was on the run when Townsend failed to appear at a scheduled court hearing.
After Townsend was discovered in Mexico, the Texas Rangers intervened on behalf of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office and negotiated his transfer from Mexico. The MCSO SWAT Alpha Team traveled to Laredo where they took custody of Townsend and returned him to Conroe, booking him into the Montgomery County Jail on June 11.
Montgomery County Sheriff Tommy Gage said he was disappointed to learn of Townsend’s sentence, as were the members of his SIU. The Sheriff said he expected members of the many other agencies involved would feel likewise.
Between 2006 and June, when Townsend was handed over to US officials by Mexican authorities, he was investigated by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office SIU, MCSO SWAT, FBI (Beaumont office), Liberty County Sheriff’s Criminal Investigation Division, the Texas Rangers, Texas Department of Public Safety aircraft Division, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, and Conroe DPS Narcotics Division.
First Assistant District Attorney Phil Grant said Townsend got 10 years more than the minimum for which he was eligible. Part of the reason for what some might consider a light sentence was that Townsend did not have an extensive criminal history and had not been to prison, Grant said.
Townsend will be eligible for parole in around six years.