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Former local heroin dealer to serve 6 years in federal prison


September 15, 2015

Rockie Eugene Morse, 42, who once bragged of being Sweet Home’s “biggest heroin dealer” and whose activities created an “epidemic” of heroin use in the Sweet Home area, was sentenced in federal court to six years in federal prison on Sept. 8 for conspiracy to distribute heroin.

Following completion of his prison sentence, he will remain on post-prison supervision for four years.

Morse had pleaded guilty to the charge in U.S. District Court in Eugene in February. Charges of distribution of heroin within 1,000 feet of a school, distribution of heroin and possession with intent to distribute heroin were dismissed as part of a plea agreement.

The charge carried a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison and a minimum of five years. The prosecution had recommended 10 years in prison.

The case stemmed from an investigation into the death of Ashley Ames. On Oct. 2, 2013, the 25-year-old Lebanon woman was found dead. Investigators found drug paraphernalia and residue quantities of black tar heroin, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Prior to her death, Ames had been scheduled to enter drug treatment.

As a result of the ensuing investigation, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Linn County Sheriff’s Office uncovered a major influx of heroin into Sweet Home, and they arrested some 15 individuals, who faced federal and state charges.

Morse was arrested and charged in federal court with distribution of heroin resulting in death under the federal “Len Bias” statute, which carries a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 20 years, a maximum of life in prison and a fine of up to $2 million. He did not plead guilty to this charge and was not convicted on the charge.

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, expanded in 1988, is colloquially known as the “Len Bias law” law, named after a first-team All-American college basketball player with the University of Maryland. Bias was drafted as the second pick overall by the Boston Celtics in 1986 but died two days later from a cocaine overdose. The law created mandatory minimum sentencing for drug trafficking.

The prosecutors in the case, Acting U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams and Assistant U.S. Attorney Leah Bolstad, noted in their sentencing memorandum that Morse has a substantial criminal history spanning 15 years, who has not taken steps to live a law-abiding life. He steals from others, using violence when necessary. He was on supervision at the time of the offense yet engaged in an active conspiracy to transport and distribute heroin.

They said he was “the self-proclaimed biggest heroin dealer in Sweet Home.”

“Morse played a significant role in introducing a heroin epidemic to the citizens of Linn County, with devastating results,” they said in support of their sentencing recommendation. “Defendant was a leader who directed the movements of at least five runners. He took advantage of their addictions to heroin by giving them access to this poison that was necessary to keep them ‘well.’ In an effort to avoid the horrific sickness associated with heroin withdrawal, these young men and women continued delivering heroin for defendant in their small community, creating more and more addicts with each passing week. After two years of this, Linn County’s heroin problem has reached epidemic proportions.”

Linn County detectives arrested and interviewed Morse on May 19, 2014.

According to the memorandum, Morse admitted selling and using heroin for approximately three years. He explained that he purchased heroin from Tammy Tongate in Portland, routinely purchasing one to two ounces per week. Runners would drive him to Portland to resupply his drug inventory, and they would deliver heroin to customers. Morse paid them in heroin.

Morse also admitted that Ames was one of his heroin customers and that he had sold her a balloon of heroin the night before she overdosed. He speculated that another person probably sold her the lethal dose.

Deputies arrested Morse following an investigation and controlled buys in cooperation with the DEA. The DEA executed a federal search warrant at Tongate’s home in Portland on May 19. During the search, agents seized drug records, packaging, more than 300 grams of heroin, $1,345 and a digital scale.

According to the sentencing memorandum, Tongate admitted selling heroin to 10 to 12 customers, including Morse and his girlfriend Laticia Sanchez of Sweet Home.

Tongate pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute heroin and was sentenced in May to 24 months in prison, although she has not started serving her sentence.

Three others faced federal charges in the case.

Charges against Sanchez were dismissed. In four cases at Linn County Circuit Court in May 2014, prior to the federal indictment, Sanchez pleaded guilty to third-degree theft and was sentenced to 240 hours in jail and two counts of delivery of heroin and was sentenced to 20 days in jail in one and 17 months in prison in the second.

Dismissed as part of a plea agreement were delivery of methamphetamine, possession of meth, two counts of possession of heroin, three counts of delivery of heroin and supplying contraband.

Federal charges against Nathaniel Brian Tongate-Ehlers of Portland were dismissed on Sept. 24 because he pleaded guilty to delivery of a controlled substance, heroin, in Multnomah Circuit Court.

Joaquin Mata-Ornelas of Portland pleaded guilty in June to conspiracy to distribute heroin and is scheduled for sentencing on Oct. 5.


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