Day 3: From the Emerald Triangle to the Sunflower State

Couple plead guilty, plan to marry amid biggest drug bust

Locations

This property located at 1605 E. 550 Road has been seized in connection with a recent bust of a drug ring. The home was under construction by owners Chad Bauman and Carey Willming, who federal agents believe financed the build with drug money.

• Ultimate Tan & Fusion: A tanning salon at 2449 Iowa St., pictured above, owned by Willming. According to court documents, Bauman funneled thousands in drug proceeds through the business.

• Extreme Carpet Cleaning: Originally a legitimate carpet-cleaning business owned by Bauman, the facility in North Lawrence was allegedly used to receive and store drugs.

• House in Lecompton: Using drug proceeds, Bauman and Willming received a $600,000 loan to purchase property in Lecompton. The 31-acre property and a partially built home were seized by authorities as part of the drug indictment.

Timeline

• January 2006: Chad Bauman begins picking up Mexican marijuana in Texas, and bringing it back to Kansas. During the next couple years, Bauman, along with several other major players in the drug conspiracy, allegedly imports marijuana from California sources.

• January through March, 2010: Bauman makes several large purchases with what police believe are the proceeds from drug sales, and begins depositing large amounts of money into business accounts from the various businesses he owns.

Carey Willming jail mugshot.

• April 2010: Carey Willming begins depositing large amounts of money — alleged to be drug proceeds — into the business account for her tanning salon.

• October 2011: A confidential informant tips police off to a large drug deal at Bauman’s carpet-cleaning business. Investigators use this tip to launch a larger investigation into Bauman and his business practices.

• March 2012: Undercover officers are able to follow Bauman as he picks up drugs from a storage unit in Lawrence and conducts drug deals in Johnson County and Kansas City, Mo.

• June 2012: Using information gleaned from the investigation, authorities arrest Willming and Bauman, as well as two dozen others involved in the case.

• February 2013: Willming pleads guilty to money laundering.

Chad Bauman jail mugshot.

• March 2013: Bauman pleads guilty, but the plea agreement is sealed.

People involved

• Chad E. Bauman, 33, Lawrence: A major supplier of marijuana who received drugs from various sources and distributed them from his carpet-cleaning business in Lawrence. Owned several area businesses, including a used-car lot, a construction company and an entertainment business. Pleaded guilty; the plea agreement has been sealed and he has not been sentenced.

• Carey L. Willming, 37, Lawrence: Engaged to Bauman, she funneled proceeds from drug sales through her Lawrence tanning salon. However, Willming is not implicated in any of the day-to-day operations of the drug conspiracy. Willming pleaded guilty to money laundering and is awaiting sentencing.

• Aaron C. Gunderson, Topeka, 36: Helped Bauman store large quantities of drugs at both a storage facility at Forbes Field in Topeka and a home in Paxico, where police discovered nearly 400 pounds of marijuana. Pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy charges but has not been sentenced.

• Michael S. Witt, Olathe, 37: Bought large quantities of drugs from Bauman, including a purchase in March 2012. Witt was arrested after the purchase of several pounds of marijuana, which occurred in the parking lot of Olathe North High School. Witt’s plea agreement has been sealed and he has not yet been sentenced. He is free on a $25,000 bond.

• Adam Christiansen, 31, Lawrence: Former brother-in-law of Bauman who helped store drugs and sold drugs for Bauman in Kansas and in Chicago. Christiansen also helped run Extreme Carpet Cleaning. Pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy, and is free on a $25,000 bond while awaiting sentencing.

• Stephen Mallison Rector, 51, Kansas City, Kan: Helped Bauman get marijuana and cocaine. Rector also assisted Bauman in several business endeavors that were designed to conceal drug profits. Pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy charge and is being held without bond pending sentencing.

Items seized

Items seized from Chad Bauman and Carey Willming during the case:

• More than $270,000 from bank accounts and in cash stored at their Lawrence home.

• A home in Lawrence and one in Lecompton, as well as property in Topeka.

• A Savage 820B shotgun, no serial number.

• Numerous lawn mowers and tractor equipment.

(Editor’s note: This is the third day of a four-part series. Click here for Day One, here for Day Two, and here for Day Four.)

Some love stories are complicated.

Such is the case of Lawrence businessman Chad Bauman and local tanning salon owner Carey Willming. Their romance is clouded by drug trafficking, money laundering and federal convictions that could send them both to prison.

Authorities have seized the 2.4-karat, $13,000 engagement ring Bauman bought for Willming, as well as a $600,000 house in Lecompton in which they planned to live — both allegedly purchased with drug money.

Both have pleaded guilty to charges in the case, and even with possible impending prison sentences the engaged couple plan to wed — behind bars, if necessary.

During their courtship, court documents allege Willming helped Bauman funnel drug money through local businesses and area properties as part of a large federal drug case involving 43 defendants and $17 million in seized assets.

The businessman

Bauman, 33, has owned and operated numerous local businesses in the past decade, including a construction company, a used-car business, a Kansas City-area laundromat and two “entertainment” businesses, according to Kansas business records.

The businesses have come and gone over the years as their licenses expired, according to state records. At least one of the local businesses owned by Bauman, Extreme Carpet Cleaning, was central to his large-scale drug operation. In a nondescript commercial building on North 1823 Road, authorities say, Bauman stored hundreds of pounds of drugs and dealt with millions of dollars in drug money.

Bauman started trafficking drugs as early as 2006, when he would travel to Texas to pick up shipments of marijuana and cocaine imported from Mexico, according to court records. Later, he would have the drugs shipped straight to his carpet cleaning business.

Teaming up with other local drug traffickers in 2006, Bauman’s operation grew as high-grade marijuana funneled in — first from Canada and later from California, where the prices were better. The stakes kept getting higher and at one point, Bauman was shipping as much as $800,000 at a time to California for hundreds of pounds of drugs. A ledger seized from Bauman’s Lawrence home show the last shipment he received from California was for more than 400 pounds of marijuana.

Throughout the alleged drug conspiracy, Bauman needed somewhere to keep all those drugs, and that’s where his business came in handy, as well as a storage facility at Forbes Field in Topeka.

But more drugs brought more cash, which also needed a place to go. That’s where his fiancee, Willming, and another business partner came into play.

Cleaning the cash

As his drug business boomed, Bauman faced a typical problem for high-level drug dealers: he had “dirty” money from the illicit drug trade, and he needed it “cleaned” through a money-laundering mechanism, said Gregory D. Lee, a retired DEA supervisor and criminal justice consultant. Too much income, and no proof of where it came from, can raise red flags with police or the IRS, Lee said.

One way to launder money is to cycle it through a legitimate business, which is what Bauman allegedly did.

The gobs of money earned through his drug trafficking enterprise found its way into business accounts Willming kept for her Lawrence tanning salon, Ultimate Tan & Fusion, which continues to operate. Court records also indicate that Bauman and Stephen Mallison Rector, another co-defendant in the case, purchased the Mid-Town Laundromat in Kansas City, Mo., to launder the drug cash.

But inevitably, the money didn’t add up, and investigators would later allege that Willming was depositing more money into bank accounts than she earned through the tanning salon. Authorities also began paying attention to some large purchases by Bauman, including the engagement ring as well as a $56,000 truck.

In addition, police were able to follow Bauman on one particular drug-trafficking adventure in March 2012 as Bauman picked up three trash bags from a storage unit — rented by Willming’s business — at Parkway Storage in Lawrence.

Bauman then met up with Michael Shane Witt, of Olathe, in front of Olathe North High School, and the two conducted what police believe was a drug deal. A Johnson County Sheriff’s Deputy, not included in the larger drug investigation, pulled Witt over for a traffic violation. Inside his car, police found several pounds of marijuana.

Bauman, meanwhile, unsuspectingly headed to Kansas City, Mo., where police watched him conduct another drug deal. Bauman was not arrested until months later in June, as part of the larger criminal case. By that time, federal authorities had enough evidence — through their surveillance of Bauman and with subpoenaed bank records — to include Bauman and Willming in the larger federal case.

Marriage plans

It’s not clear when or where Bauman, who graduated from Perry-Lecompton High School, and Willming, from McLouth, connected. But they knew each other for at least several years. Willming’s signature as a notary public appears on child custody documents related to Bauman’s son from a previous marriage.

By early 2012, with police hot on their trail, the couple continued to plan their upcoming marital life, beginning construction on a home on the 31 acres of property they bought in Lecompton.

Today, the half-finished home sits unoccupied. Federal government seizure notices are posted on a security gate.

Property in Topeka and a home in Lawrence where Bauman and Willming lived also were seized, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars from bank accounts and cash stashed in various storage units.

In March Bauman pleaded guilty, but the details of that agreement are sealed. Willming, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to money laundering. As part of her plea, Willming agreed to provide information about the drug conspiracy and not to contest the seizure of more than $1.4 million in assets from her and Bauman.

Both await sentencing; Willming is free on a $25,000 bond and Bauman is at a federal detention facility in Leavenworth. Depending on several factors, such as their criminal history and possible cooperation against other defendants, the time they spend in prison could vary considerably.

Lawyers for the two have declined comment on the case citing the pending sentencing, not yet scheduled.

When, and whether, a wedding date has been set is unclear. But a judge in February gave approval for the two to marry at the correctional facility, “under such conditions as the United States Marshal deems appropriate.”

Wednesday: A Kansas City area businessman nicknamed “Spiderman,” spins a web of front businesses and deception to smuggle large quantities of drugs into the Lawrence and Johnson County areas. Experts say it was a classic marijuana trafficking operation.