News and Press Releases

Defendant Owned SUV with Hidden Compartment Stuffed with More Than $238,000 in Cash

April 20, 2010

JONATHAN JOSE ESPINOZA, 19, a resident of Federal Way, Washington, was found guilty today in U.S. District Court in Seattle of Conspiracy to Distribute Cocaine. The jury deliberated about three hours following a five day jury trial. ESPINOZA was a member of a drug trafficking conspiracy bringing cocaine north from Mexico and Southern California, and sending cash back south. ESPINOZA is the registered owner of a 2006 Chevy Tahoe that was pulled over in Cowlitz County in July 2009, in the midst of a lengthy Drug Enforcement Administration investigation of the drug trafficking organization. ESPINOZA’s brother was arrested at the traffic stop for driving with a suspended license. ESPINOZA was not in the vehicle, which was impounded by police and searched. Agents found $238,045 in cash hidden in a secret compartment of the Tahoe.

Over the next few weeks, JONATHAN JOSE ESPINOZA called repeatedly to try to retrieve the vehicle from the impound lot. On various recorded telephone calls, ESPINOZA and other members of the conspiracy discussed the seizure of the vehicle, as well as the drug dealing and drug debts. In the days following the seizure of the Tahoe, agents also stopped and seized $262,000 from another vehicle tied to the drug ring. On September 22, 2009, agents moved in and arrested a number of participants in the drug conspiracy and seized more than 5 kilos of cocaine, crack, methamphetamine and cash. Six defendants have already pleaded guilty, and two are fugitives. ESPINOZA was indicted by the grand jury and was arrested November 9, 2009.

In a second procedure following the guilty verdict today, the jury ordered the 2006 Tahoe forfeited to the government. The cash seized from the car has already been administratively forfeited to the United States.

ESPINOZA was taken into custody following the verdict. He faces a mandatory minimum ten years in prison when sentenced by U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones on July 16, 2010.

This was an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation, providing supplemental federal funding to the federal and state agencies involved. The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) with assistance from the Washington State Patrol, and Seattle Police Department.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Karyn Johnson and Jeffrey Backhus.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110 or Emily.Langlie@USDOJ.Gov.

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