A South Portland man who acted as a drug runner for a heroin-smuggling ring between a supplier in Massachusetts and dealers in Maine and New Hampshire was sentenced Friday in U.S. District Court in Portland to nearly 4½ years in federal prison.

Nicholas Schwarz, 26, pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to distribute heroin on May 14, 2013, before U.S. District Judge George Singal, who sentenced Schwarz to 53 months in prison followed by four years of supervised release.

Schwarz worked for a ringleader of the heroin operation, Mitch Merritt, 30, of Rochester, N.H., who was sentenced before the same judge Thursday to 151 months in prison followed by five years of supervised release.

Merritt first met with the supplier, Efrain Urena, in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in August 2011, when Urena agreed to supply heroin to Merritt and members of his ring. Merritt’s ring members initially made trips to Massachusetts for heroin on a weekly basis, but they began going more frequently, according to court documents.

By the summer of 2012, an undercover agent from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration bought $750 worth of heroin from Merritt and another associate in Lebanon, Maine, and began monitoring Merritt’s phone after that, according to court records.

“Once Merritt obtained the heroin, he would in turn distribute some of the heroin to other persons in Maine and New Hampshire. Defendant Schwarz was one of the individuals who would travel to Massachusetts on behalf of Merritt to acquire heroin from Urena or Urena’s associates,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Perry said in a prosecution document.

Urena was sentenced on March 11 to 12 years in prison followed by five years of supervised release. At least 12 other people were charged or face charges in connection with the heroin-smuggling conspiracy.

Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:

sdolan@pressherald.com

Twitter: @scottddolan