Michael Paul Watkins of Inverness had successfully escaped from custody previously on two separate occasions after being convicted for the crime of fondling and handling a minor under the age of sixteen years in Florida State Court. He was arrested in October 2011 on a charge of domestic battery. Details of that arrest record are exempt from public information as per Florida statute.
Late last year, the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office received information from local Wal-Mart employees that an individual who was later identified as an employee of Cool Aid Heating and Air Conditioning was purchasing a questionably large amount of firearms from the outlet during the course of a short period of time. The air conditioning company was one of two businesses owned by Watkins. The purchases included various types of guns including AR-15 rifles. The law enforcement agency also received an anonymous tip that Watkins was obtaining and stockpiling firearms, grenades (explosive devices), and ammunition from a third party. As a convicted felon, Watkins is prohibited from manufacturing, possessing, or purchasing any type of weapons under the National Firearms Act.
The Sheriff’s Office contacted the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), a federal law enforcement agency and together they executed three warrants based on probable cause, searching Watkins home and the two businesses he owned.
Through their search efforts at Watkins home, close to 150 firearms as well as 17 explosive devices were uncovered. The investigators’ assigned to the search the premises commented that Watkins house was “built like a bunker”. There was a concrete gated wall surrounding the home entrance as well as rolling steel shutters guarding the front door and all windows.
In addition to the air conditioning and heating company, Watkins is also the owner of Ridin’ Dirty Motor Sports, a retailer of ATV’s, go carts and motorcycles. He was arrested at that location and charged with illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon as well as illegal possession of a destructive device. If convicted, each of the crimes carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in a federal prison.
When Watkins’ employee was questioned by federal investigators he told them that the acquisition of the firearms began in September 2013 in gun shops where they were legally sold, including Wal-Mart stores in Inverness, Inglis, and Ocala, Florida. The money was provided by his employer and on some occasions he waited in the store’s parking lot for the transaction to be completed. He also bought conversion kits for Watson by way of the Internet, using a pre-paid card provided by his boss. These supplies are specifically used in the conversion of semi-automatic weapons into automatic firearms.
He also admitted to investigators that he assisted his boss construct and set off pipe bombs which were made from PVC pipes that contained explosive substances on a vacant lot which Watkins owned in Dunnellon, FL. The Citrus County Property Appraiser confirmed that the property was owned by Watkins’s company (Watkins Inc.).
In further response to investigator’s questions regarding why his employer had accumulated the equivalence of a small armory, he told them that Watkins feared the foreseeable collapse of the United States economy and planned to eventually become a supplier for the firearms industry. Telephone records and text messages corresponding to the purchase dates between Watkins and his worker were also accumulated by investigating agents.
Although Watkins was convicted of his prior crimes in the state criminal justice system, these new charges will be tried in federal court. The employee continues to work and cooperate with federal authorities.