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A South King County man is facing federal prison time after investigators allege he painstakingly unwrapped the signature gold foil on Ferrero Rocher candies, replacing a boxful of the chocolate hazelnut nuggets with gold-wrapped globs of black-tar heroin.

Jesus Rodriguez Horta, 46, appeared Wednesday in U.S. District Court, where Magistrate Judge Brian Tsuchida denied his request for monitored release and ordered him detained on two counts of possession with intent to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin.

According to charges filed last week, Horta tried to mail the drugs to Alaska, but they were intercepted by investigators in Seattle. Agents arrested the intended recipient in Juneau after an undercover postal inspector delivered a package containing some drugs and a transmitter that was activated when the package was opened.

The man was snagged by agents waiting outside after he opened the box and tried to flee, according to court documents.

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Tsuchida rejected Horta’s promise not to abscond, siding with a recommendation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office that Horta be detained pending a preliminary hearing next week.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Masada said that Horta has an extensive criminal history, is a confessed crack-cocaine addict and has absconded before.

Given the quantities of drugs involved — multiple-ounce amounts of all three substances — Horta faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine if convicted, Masada said.

The investigation involved the
U.S. Postal Service, detectives from the King County Sheriff’s Office and a trio of confidential informants, one of whom stole some of the heroin but was caught and turned in by another informant, according to court documents.

A federal complaint filed May 20 says the Sheriff’s Office learned of Horta from an informant in February after Horta had recruited the informant to mail a package of heroin and methamphetamine to Alaska. A second informant — the alleged thief — actually picked up the package and delivered it to detectives.

Investigators found a bag of methamphetamine and the individually wrapped balls of heroin.

“It was a new style. Something they (detectives) hadn’t seen before,” said King County sheriff’s spokeswoman Sgt. DB Gates. “Bad guys are always trying to come up with ways to hide what they’re doing.”

In Alaska, U.S. Postal Inspector Nelson Rivera prepared the transmitter-rigged package and delivered it to the suspected Juneau drug dealer, who was arrested Feb. 27 after opening the package.

Investigators found two guns and a cellphone with a history of calls and text messages to and from Horta.

Horta was arrested the same day at an extended-stay apartment in Kent after making two heroin and meth sales to a confidential informant, according to the charges.

A search of his home turned up more than 2 ounces of methamphetamine, 4 ounces of cocaine, almost half a pound of heroin and $14,000 in cash, including marked bills that had changed hands during one of the buys set up by detectives.

Initially, Horta was charged in state court, but he was able to post bond on March 5 and disappeared.

The charging papers allege he almost immediately went back to selling drugs, where he independently caught the attention of the East Side Narcotics Task force, which recruited a third confidential informant to meet with Horta twice more to buy drugs before he was arrested again on May 15 after leaving his hotel room in SeaTac.

Mike Carter:

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