LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – A federal judge has denied a motion by attorneys for former Bullitt County special deputy Chris Mattingly to throw out wiretap evidence in a case where Mattingly is accused of being the head of a Kentucky drug cell that coordinated with a cartel in California and had links to Mexico.

U.S. District Judge David J. Hale ruled on Friday that defense attorneys did not prove the wiretap evidence had been improperly obtained by investigators in Riverside County, California.

Brian Butler, an attorney for Mattingly, said they are "reviewing the decision and deciding what our next step should be in light of the court's ruling."

Mattingly and five other men have been indicted on charges alleging they distributed enormous amounts of cash and more than a ton of marijuana from Bullitt County throughout the country.

Investigators have also accused Mattingly of plotting to kill Capt. Mike Halbleib of the Bullitt County Drug Task Force, which has been leading the investigation.

Defense attorneys said the wiretap evidence was not properly obtained or necessary. Butler said a judge in Riverside County had authorized an “astronomical” amount of wiretaps in 2014, using “boilerplate” language and without prosecutors justifying why lesser measures weren’t taken.

“It’s an assembly line for wiretaps,” Butler told Hale in May.

And Butler said all 624 wiretaps in 2014 were improperly approved by an assistant district attorney, violating a law requiring the elected district attorney to personally approve each application unless he is unable to do so.

While Hale appeared to have some skepticism surrounding the number of wiretaps approved in Riverside, he said the specific issue before him was the Mattingly case.

“While the sheer volume of wiretaps applied for and approved in Riverside County suggests that constitutional requirements cannot have been met, the legality of that system is not the issue before the court,” Hale ruled.

The judge found that courts in California allow assistant district attorneys to approve wiretaps and he disagreed that the affidavits in the Mattingly case only used “boilerplate” language.

The affidavits described physical surveillance over several months, for example, Hale said in his ruling.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Fentress told Judge Hale that prosecutors only plan to use one of five wiretaps in the Mattingly case – and argued that there is no question that particular wiretap, from March 11, 2014, was properly approved.

Mattingly has been in the Oldham County Jail without bond since he was first indicted on drug charges in September. He has pleaded not guilty.

The other men charged include Ronald Shewmaker, an alleged money courier and Eddie Whitfill, the caretaker of a Breckinridge County farm where Mattingly raised and sold chickens.

Shewmaker was stopped by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department on May 4, 2014, in Perris, Calif. Investigators, acting on information obtained from wiretaps, seized about $420,000.

The investigation into Mattingly started more than 2,200 miles away when he surfaced last year talking on a wiretap investigators had on the cartel in Riverside.

The cartel is accused of distributing narcotics to several states, including Missouri, Texas, Georgia and Kentucky. Drug enforcement agencies from St. Louis, Lexington, Louisville and areas in California have been investigating for years.  

Police have seized hundreds of thousands of dollars they claim are linked to Mattingly.

During at least part of the time Mattingly has been under investigation, he was serving as a special deputy to the Bullitt County Sheriff’s Department.

Special deputies are appointed by the sheriff and have the same powers as a regular deputy, with some exceptions, such as not being allowed to make arrests in domestic violence cases.

He worked as a special deputy in 2013 and 2014, the department said.

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