updated 6/23/2006 4:49:55 AM ET 2006-06-23T08:49:55

Much of Kevin Klarell Washington’s family believed he was dead after his brother-in-law made a 911 call from a shrimp boat in September, saying Washington had fallen overboard.

The Coast Guard searched the waters of Ossabaw Sound for three days without finding Washington’s body. Family and friends wept at a memorial service two weeks after he vanished.

Nine months later, federal authorities found the 32-year-old Savannah man alive in Orlando, Fla., and arrested him on charges of distributing crack cocaine stemming from an investigation before he vanished.

“Based on the timing of his alleged drowning, law enforcement was skeptical at best” of his death, said William Kirkconnell, the FBI’s supervisory senior special agent in Savannah. “Kevin Washington was on the FBI radar well before his alleged drowning.”

Tips led police to 'Tank'
Authorities said they received tips over the last three weeks that led them to Washington, a shrimper nicknamed “Tank” who weighed 300 pounds. They had gotten a break in March, when Washington’s wife renewed his Georgia driver’s license.

“When she did that, it really piqued everybody’s curiosity, and the investigation really picked up,” said Trey Leggett of the U.S. Marshal’s Service Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force.

Lavonnia Washington, 29, has been charged with conspiracy to possess and distribute crack cocaine for “aiding, abetting and participating in the false drowning death of her husband,” assistant U.S. Attorney Karl Knoche told a judge at her bond hearing Thursday.

Brother and wife likely in on ruse
Knoche said investigators believe Lavonnia Washington, her brother, Timothy Sapp — who reported Washington missing in September — and Sapp’s wife may be the only family members who knew he wasn’t dead.

“Mr. Washington’s mother was deceived into believing her son had died,” he said.

Kevin Washington is being held in Orlando awaiting transport back to Georgia. U.S. Magistrate Judge G.R. Smith in Savannah set bond for his at $200,000 on Thursday.

Lavonnia Washington acknowledged in court that she had renewed her husband’s driver’s license in March, six months after he supposedly died. She said it was necessary so contract workers aboard two shrimp boats the couple owns could continue trawling for shrimp.

Washington’s brother-in-law, Sapp, had told authorities they had sailed his shrimp boat into Ossabaw Sound in the early morning hours of Sept. 13. He said Washington had been knocked overboard by a net that fell and hit him over the head.

No one has been charged other than Washington and his wife, but authorities say they could file more charges as they continue investigating.

Hundreds attended a memorial service for Washington at Litway Missionary Baptist Church. The church’s pastor, the Rev. Leonard Small, told the Savannah Morning News he was angry to learn Washington’s death was a hoax.

“We at Litway Missionary Baptist Church are appalled that anyone would put up such a charade and commit such fraud on the church of the living God,” Small said.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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