Daniel Vern Williams

Akron man behind downtown Fairgrove meth lab gets up to 20 years

Daniel Vern Williams, Sept. 2, 2016 (MDOC)
Daniel Vern Williams, Sept. 2, 2016 (MDOC)

An Akron man is headed to prison for up to 20 years for operating a methamphetamine lab in downtown Fairgrove.

Daniel Vern Williams, 33, Akron was sentenced to up to 20 years in prison for conducting a criminal enterprise and manufacturing methamphetamine, commonly called “meth.” He pleaded no contest to the charges in June.

Williams – identified in court as a known associate of Caleb Hills (see story, above) – was busted earlier this year by the Thumb Narcotics Unit and several other law enforcement agencies for operating a meth lab at the former restaurant in downtown Fairgrove.

Tuscola County Circuit Court Judge Amy Grace Gierhart said during sentencing that she hopes the four-year sentence serves as a wake-up call.

“I think you need to use this…as a valuable learning experience and move forward and explain to other people the pitfalls of these types of activities,” Gierhart said, immediately prior to sentencing Williams.

Tuscola County Prosecutor Mark Reene told The Advertiser in March that the meth lab was discovered through a search conducted in connection with a probation violation of an associate of Williams’.

Subsequent investigation found Williams was involved in the manufacture of meth in Caro, the village of Fairgrove, and Bay City between September 2015 and January.

Further investigation revealed Williams either bought or had others buy ephedrine or pseudoephedrine in Caro, Cass City, Frankenmuth, and Saginaw between August 2015 and as recent as February.

Downtown Fairgrove meth lab site, Aug. 2016
Photo taken Sept. 1, 2016, through window of former restaurant – and meth lab – in downtown Fairgrove. Photo by John Cook

Pseudoephedrine is available as an over-the-counter medication for treatment of colds and flu, but also processed in the illegal “cooking” of meth. In Michigan, purchases of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine are tracked by the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) to monitor sales of the medications. 

Meth production, or “cooking,” includes a hazardous, volatile combination of ingredients such as over-the-counter ephedrine or pseudoephedrine – commonly used to treat colds and sinus issues – and other chemicals like antifreeze, fertilizer, drain cleaner, lantern fuel, even battery acid.

Earlier this year, bright orange signs warning the former restaurant Angie’s Place, 2036 Main St. – next door to Castamore Zagalotti’s Flashback Café – was being used as a “clandestine laboratory for the manufacturing of illegal drugs and/or hazardous chemicals that were seized at this location,” and that hazardous substances could linger. A sign warning of the illegal operation was posted as recently as Thursday.

On Wednesday, Williams’ attorney Lisa Blanton, of Bay City, argued that the court should consider her client’s troubled history and give him a sentence that would allow him to attend a “boot camp” instead of general population prison.

She told Gierhart “the reason that we’re standing here today is that my client has had a severe drug and alcohol problem since a very, very young age. He was raised in a home where he had an abusive father. He protected his siblings and took the brunt of that abuse.

“He did his first drug at 8 years old. At 9 years old, he had his first drink. He moved out at age 16 and began drinking very, very heavily. At that point, he was no longer there to be the one taking the brunt of the abuse, and his siblings began to suffer for that.”

Blanton said Williams has “a lot of regret” for leaving his siblings and has “been addicted to everything his whole life” including alcohol, heroin, and meth. She further pointed out that Williams is “so much better” now than when he was arrested earlier this year.

Williams thanked Tuscola County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Eric Wanink “for keeping my bail at so high I couldn’t bond out because if I was going to, I was going to kill myself.

“That was my mission,” Williams told the court. “That’s the only reason I wanted to bond out.”

Wanink, however, urged the court to not lose sight of what Williams did prior to his arrest, including impacting many people in the area who were used to purchase ephedrine and pseudoephedrine-based products for others.

“I ask the court not to lose sight of the fact that a lot of the fallout the court’s been experiencing with regards to these charges for ephedrine/pseudoephedrine – the most recent sentencing regarding Mr. (Caleb) Hills – these were all associates of the defendant and he is solely responsible for introducing this element that came from the city of Flint to Tuscola County.

“He is the one who put a lot of these folks in contact with the high-level trafficking drug dealers in the city of Flint,” Wanink said.

Wanink said he appreciated Williams’ recognizing his impact on others. 

“He has indicated to me in the past that he understands a lot of this, as he puts it, is all his fault…”

During sentencing, Gierhart said it was “unfortunate” Williams has the background he does, yet said “there’s nothing I can do to change that.

“I hope that somehow you can get some resolution with that going forward because, you know, Mr. Hills is going for 15 years as of this afternoon,” Gierhart said. “So you know his story, and that very easily could have been you.”

Gierhart sentenced Williams to between four and 20 years (with credit for 178 days served) and pay $326 in court fines and costs.

Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at andrew@tcadvertiser.com

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