Hillsboro, Texas — Central Texas cattle raisers can rest easier tonight, with a notorious livestock thief set to serve substantial time behind bars.
William “Willie” Rittenbaugh, a 49-year-old man from Mount Calm, pleaded guilty to five felony charges spanning Hill and Limestone counties this week following a long investigation led by Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association Special Ranger Marvin Wills.
In the Hill County 66th District Court, Rittenbaugh pleaded guilty to:
- One count, first degree felony, misappropriation of fiduciary property. He received a 12-year sentence and was ordered to pay the victim $435,000 restitution on 511 head of cattle.
- One count, second degree felony, misappropriation of fiduciary property. Rittenbaugh received a 10-year sentence and ordered to pay the victim $150,000 restitution on 191 head of cattle.
- Two counts, third degree felony, theft of livestock. He received and eight-year sentence on a total of 83 head of cattle.
In the Limestone County 77th District Court, Rittenbaugh pleaded guilty to:
- One count, third degree felony, theft of livestock. He received a seven-year sentence and was ordered to pay $3,500 restitution on one horse.
Rittenbaugh’s sentencing totaled 37 years and he was ordered to pay a total of $588,500 in restitution to the victims.
The defendant’s legal troubles 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, 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 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 Jan. 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.”
Photo of William “Willie” Rittenbaugh, courtesy of Hill County Sheriff's Office
Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association’s special rangers are an elite group of law enforcement officers who have extensive knowledge of the cattle industry. While they primarily investigate cattle theft and other agricultural crimes, they are well-trained in all facets of law enforcement. In all, the association has 30 special rangers stationed throughout Texas and Oklahoma who are commissioned through the Texas Department of Public Safety or Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.
The special rangers also oversee more than 80 market inspectors who collect data, such as brands and other identifying marks on about 5 million cattle sold at 100 Texas livestock markets each year. That information is entered into the association’s recording and retrieval system, which is a vital tool for law enforcement when investigating theft cases.