LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – Former Bullitt County special deputy Chris Mattingly and two other men pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal drug charges that alleged they were part of a drug cell in Kentucky which had ties to Mexico and distributed drugs and large sums of cash across the country.

The pleas by Mattingly, Ronald Shewmaker and Eddie Whitfill to U.S. District Court Judge David Hale are one of the final steps in an investigation that started in 2014 more than 2,200 miles away when Mattingly was heard talking on a wiretap investigators had on a drug cartel in California.

Both Whitfill and Shewmaker pleaded guilty to having knowledge of a conspiracy to distribute marijuana and failing to contact law enforcement.

While both could face up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine, Assistant United States Attorney Larry Fentress told Hale prosecutors would recommend five years probation and a smaller fine when the men are scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 8.

Mattingly pleaded guilty to money laundering and conspiring to distribute more than a ton of marijuana and methamphetamine. Fentress said the government's recommended sentence will be a maximum of ten years in prison and a fine.

Brian Butler, an attorney for Mattingly, declined to comment until the sentencing.

Frank Mascagni, Shewmaker's attorney, said his client "did not want to go to trial and have a jury hear all of this information, because the acts of his co-defendants ... could hurt him."

Among the evidence prosecutors would have used at trial were wiretap recordings, financial records, information from a confidential informant and testimony from law enforcement.

In July, Hale denied a motion by the attorneys to throw out key wiretap evidence.

Investigators had also accused Mattingly of plotting to kill Capt. Mike Halbleib of the Bullitt County Drug Task Force, which has been leading the investigation. He has not been charged for alleged threats.

Mattingly is alleged to be head of a drug cell in Bullitt County while Shewmaker, was accused of being a money courier and Whitfill the caretaker of a Breckinridge County farm where Mattingly raised and sold chickens.

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

In one example of the wiretap evidence, prosecutors say Mattingly talked with his contact in California on March 17, 2014. Mattingly discussed cockfighting and the blades used for the fights. And Mattingly said his courier would come to California with money the next day.

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.

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 has said.

Mattingly's badge was taken after he was pulled over in September 2014 by Halbleib, several drug task force members, a Louisville Metro Police Department narcotics detective and other officers, according to court documents and interviews. Mattingly was stopped at Preston Highway and Grade Lane in Louisville on Sept. 4, 2014, for speeding and failing to use turn signals, court records show.

Mattingly showed officers his Bullitt County Special Deputy Badge and called Sheriff Dave Greenwell during the stop, attempting to verify he was a deputy, according to a summary of the incident in court records.

While he was on the phone with Greenwell, Mattingly repeatedly attempted to have LMPD Det. Chris Sanders talk with the sheriff, according to court records.

For months last year, Halbleib had "armed guards" at his home for protection because of threats made by Mattingly, prosecutors have said. Mattingly has not been charged with threatening Halbleib.

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