Drug trafficker sentenced to 10 years to ‘pay the fiddler’

Travis Keel, known for violence, played part in a scheme that stretched from Mexico to Washington.

EVERETT — The high-level drug trafficker took the news of a 10-year sentence in stride.

“If you want to dance, you have to pay the fiddler,” Travis Keel, 52, said in Snohomish County Superior Court on Nov. 13.

Keel pleaded guilty to three drug-related charges, three counts of unlawful gun possession, and possession of an explosive device — a sparkler bomb.

The plea agreement was reached in coordination with attorneys in a federal case involving Keel. In August, he was indicted in U.S. District Court in Seattle with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl, and possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute. He was named in criminal complaints and indictments along with 19 other people as part of an ongoing investigation of a drug trafficking scheme that stretched from Mexico to the Puget Sound region.

Keel was expected to plead in the federal case as well, also for a recommended 10 years in prison. That would likely run concurrently with the county’s sentence.

“Even during this COVID-19 crisis, these alleged drug traffickers preyed on Washingtonians, using extraordinary violence to increase their wealth and power,” said DEA Acting Administrator Timothy J. Shea in a statement.

In the county case, a Seattle narcotics detective’s investigation found Keel ran his operation out of a house in the Alderwood Manor neighborhood, east of Lynnwood, where he kept guns, ammunition and drugs, including more than 500 grams of methamphetamine. In the living room, three AR-15 rifles leaned against a wall, all loaded, apparently “ready to address any threat,” deputy prosecutor Elliot Thomsen wrote. A spotting scope was set up in front of a window that looked over a long driveway.

Thomsen wrote that Keel likely was associated with a gang or a drug cartel because of his level of drug distribution. He employed drug runners and muscle to collect debts — with force, if needed. Keel himself had “extremely violent tendencies” when collecting, according to charging papers. Confidential informants reported he often would beat people and threatened them with their lives if they didn’t pay, or if they made him mad.

Keel was arrested as he left the Best Western Hotel in Lynnwood, carrying a suitcase and a brown paper sack.

“You guys got me at the best time for you, worst time for me,” he said, according to charging papers. “I picked up 30 pounds of meth yesterday and sold 12 of it, so all the money I have there is from that sale.”

The detective asked who bought the 12 pounds.

He smiled. “What’s in it for me?”

Detectives took him into custody and searched his belongings. According to charging papers, inside the suitcase was 15 pounds of methamphetamine, and there was more than $70,000 in the paper sack. In his car, detectives found a pound of heroin, more methamphetamine, 1,200 suspected fentanyl pills, a 9 mm pistol, body armor and a Taser.

In the federal case, investigators observed Keel pick up two pounds of methamphetamine from another local drug trafficker on Nov. 30, 2019. Keel was just one suspect in an investigation that involved hundreds of hours of surveillance, the tracking of cellphones and vehicles, and more than a dozen controlled buys.

Keel, who could be in his 60s when he gets out of prison, hadn’t had convictions on his record since the late 1990s and early 2000s, which included three attempts to elude police, bail jumping and four drug-related convictions.

Public defender Whitney Rivera said Keel was a journeyman plumber who managed to stay out of trouble for years — until he recently fell on hard times, including when he lost an arm and a leg in a crash.

At his sentencing, Keel addressed the court and described his challenges.

“I can promise you this, I won’t be back here,” he said.

“Mr. Keel, I take you at your word when you say you’re done with this,” said superior court Judge George Appel. “When you finish paying your fiddler, you will be done. I hope to never see you in court again.”

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

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