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Amarillo Heroin Trafficker Pleads Guilty to Possessing More Than 17,000 Grams of Heroin

MAR 27 (AMARILLO, Texas) - Jose Emmanuel Morales Rittingger, 29, appeared today before U.S. District Judge Sidney A. Fitzwater and pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin.  The plea was announced by Clyde E. Shelley, Jr., Special Agent in Charge of DEA’s Dallas Division and U.S. Attorney John Parker of the Northern District of Texas.

Rittingger faces a maximum statutory penalty of life in federal prison and a fine not to exceed $1 million.  Sentencing is scheduled for July 10, 2017. Rittingger is a Mexican citizen and was in the United States illegally at the time of the offense. He will be deported after serving his sentence.

Co-defendant Joel Lara Merida, 31, was sentenced on February 27, 2017 by U.S. District Judge Sidney A. Fitzwater to 51 months in federal prison. Merida pleaded guilty in Nov. 2016 to one count of possession with intent to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin and aiding and abetting.   

According to documents filed in the case, on August 15, 2016, a Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Trooper stopped a 1995 BMW for driving in the left lane when not passing and obstructed view through the windshield. Upon making contact with the driver of the vehicle, who was later identified as Merida, and the passenger, who was later identified as Rittingger, the Trooper noticed indicators of possible criminal activity. The Trooper asked Merida for consent to search the vehicle and Merida voluntarily consented to the search. Eighteen bundles in an aftermarket compartment under the back seat were located. There were nine bundles wrapped in black tape, four bundles were wrapped in cellophane, and five bundles were wrapped in silver tape. The heroin had a gross weight of 44.26 pounds and field tested positive for the presence of heroin.

Subsequent testing confirmed that the substance seized was, in fact, heroin, a Schedule I controlled substance, with a net weight of approximately 17,388 grams.

The case was investigated by the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joshua Frausto and Sean Taylor are in charge of the prosecution.

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