A 49-year-old Mount Calm man has entered a guilty plea to five felony charges relating to cattle thefts in Hill and Limestone Counties and has been sentenced to a total of 37 years in prison.

The sentence was assessed in 66th District Court in Hillsboro for the Hill County cases and in 77th District Court in Groesbeck for the Limestone County cases and followed a long investigation led by Texas and Southwestern Cattle Rangers Association Special Ranger Marvin Willis.

Rittenbaugh was also ordered to pay a total of $588,500 in restitution to the victims.

William ” Willie” Rittenbaugh

A statement released by the TSCRA said it began in May 2018 when a Hill County rancher accused him of stealing 11 head of cattle. The missing animals were found in Rittenbaugh’s possession, seized and returned to the owner. Rittenbaugh was charged with third-degree felony theft of livestock.

In September 2018, Ranger Wills was contacted by another rancher who stated Rittenbaugh failed to deliver on an agreement he made to manage more than 1,000 head of cattle and split the profits from their sale. The investigation into that case led to a first-degree felony misapplication of fiduciary property charge. He was then charged with third-degree felony theft of livestock in Limestone County in connection to a horse theft and released from custody on a $5,000 bond.

Rittenbaugh was out on bond when he was arrested by Hill County Sheriff’s Deputies in December 2018, for the theft of another 72 head of cattle from the first victim. His bond was set at $1 million in that case, and it was turned over to Ranger Wills to continue the investigation. Considering his record, State District Judge Lee Harris increased his two previous Hill County bonds to $1.25 million and $1.5 million, respectively.

On January 15, 2019, Wills secured another arrest warrant for second-degree felony misappropriation of fiduciary property. Rittenbaugh’s bond, in that case, was set at one-half million dollars, bringing the total to $4,255,000.

Wills was quick to point out this complicated case would have been even more challenging had it not been for the help and hard work of the Hill County Sheriff’s Department, Texas Animal Health Commission investigators, Hill County District Attorney Mark Pratt and staff, and Limestone County District Attorney Roy DeFriend and staff. 

The special ranger also credited branded cattle and the victims’ good record keeping.

“Cases like this serve as a good reminder,” Wills said. “When it comes to theft prevention or recovery of stolen animals, nothing beats a brand.”