News and Press Releases

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

August 6, 2010

JONATHAN JOSE ESPINOZA, 19, of Federal Way, Washington, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to 87 months in prison and five years of supervised release for Conspiracy to Distribute Cocaine. ESPINOZA was convicted by a federal court jury April 20, 2010, following a five day trial. ESPINOZA was a member of a drug trafficking conspiracy bringing cocaine north from Mexico and Southern California, and sending cash back south. At sentencing U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones said “You were not a minor player, you were not an insignificant player in the scheme, you were a key player.”

ESPINOZA was 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 a 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. ESPINOZA was indicted by the grand jury and was arrested November 9, 2009.

In asking for an 11 year sentence, Assistant United States Attorney Karyn Johnson described ESPINOZA as a key player in the conspiracy. “Espinoza (was) more than just a simple courier; Espinoza was an important part of the success of the organization. Espinoza did a total of six trips, transporting large amounts of currency and cocaine, on the organization’s behalf. He knew he was transporting drugs and drug proceeds, and agreed to do so in exchange for payment. Espinoza did more trips for the organization than any other identified transporter,” Ms. Johnson wrote in her sentencing memo.

Judge Jones agreed noting that evidence at trial showed that there were more than 100 telephone calls between ESPINOZA and the leaders of the organization, including the source of the drugs. “They used you to the max.... you were getting used by people much older than yourself.” Speaking to the young people who came to court to support ESPINOZA Judge Jones urged them to learn from ESPINOZA’s mistakes. “I hope you see someone who got caught up in a game he lost control of a long time ago,” Judge Jones said.

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 Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), the Washington State Patrol, King County Sheriff’s Office 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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