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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Utah

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, March 12, 2018

Salt Lake City Man Charged With Distribution of Spice, Possession of a Firearm During Drug Trafficking Crimes During Operation Rio Grande Spice Crack Down Effort

SALT LAKE CITY – A four-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Salt Lake City charges James Musa Gama, age 39, of Salt Lake City, with two counts of possession of the synthetic cannabinoid commonly known as “spice” and two counts of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.

U.S. Attorney for Utah John W. Huber and Utah Department of Public Safety Commissioner Keith Squires announced the indictment Monday.

Gama was arrested on as federal complaint filed Mar. 5, 2018.  U.S. Magistrate Judge Brooke C. Wells ordered him to remain in custody after finding he constitutes a risk of danger to the community during an initial appearance Wednesday.  He is scheduled for an arraignment on the indictment Wednesday at 10:15 a.m.

According to the complaint, Gama came to the attention of agents working with the Operation Rio Grande Drug Task Force during enforcement efforts in the Pioneer Park area in December 2017 and January 2018.  The task force was targeting the suspected distribution of the synthetic cannabinoid commonly known as “spice.”

While an agent was working in an undercover capacity in Pioneer Park on Dec. 12, 2017, an unidentified man approached an agent asking what he was looking for.  The agent said he was looking for spice.  The unidentified man led the agent to Gama, who sold him one jar of spice for $40.  Other agents arrested Gama.  During a search incident to arrest, agents found five additional jars of spice in Gama’s possession, along with the $40 the agent had given him.  The Utah Bureau of Forensic Services later identified the substance in the jars as FUM-AMB, a Schedule 1 synthetic cannabinoid.  Agents also found a loaded handgun, previously reported as stolen, in Gama’s waistband.

According to the complaint, Gama told agents he had been selling three or four jars of spice per day.  He said he carried the handgun, which he bought for $300, for protection after being robbed and shot a year earlier.

Agents had a second encounter with Gama and two other individuals in Pioneer Park on Jan. 31, 2018, where they bought four jars containing suspected spice. Gama and the two others, identified as R.S. and M.G. in the complaint, were arrested.  During a search incident to arrest, agents found another handgun in GAMA’s waistband.  Again, the Utah Bureau of Forensic Services identified the substance in the jars as a Schedule 1 synthetic cannabinoid.  According to the complaint, Gama told agents he purchased the handgun for protection about a week earlier.  Gama also said he had purchased the four jars of spice earlier in the day to sell at Pioneer Park.

The two spice counts in the indictment each carry potential 20-year sentences.  The first firearm count carries a minimum mandatory sentence of five years.  The second count has a potential 25-year minimum mandatory sentence.  Sentences for the firearms counts would run consecutive to any sentence imposed for the spice counts.

Indictments are not findings of guilt.  Individuals charged in indictments are presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty in court.

Agents with Utah Department of Public Safety are investigating the case.  Prosecutors in the Utah U.S. Attorney’s Office are prosecuting the case.

Examples of other federal Operation Rio Grande cases:

US v Jose Rodriguez, aka King Kong: A grand jury returned a six-count indictment in December charging Jose Rodriguez, aka King Kong, age 35, of Salt Lake City, with drug and firearms violations. The two incidents that make up the indictment come from investigations done by Salt Lake City police officers working as a part of Operation Rio Grande.  Rodriguez is charged with distribution of heroin, distribution of cocaine base, carrying a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime and felon in possession of a firearm for the first incident in late September.  He also faces distribution of heroin and felon in possession of a firearm in connection with an October incident. Rodriguez, age 35, a Mexican national living in Salt Lake City, faces up to 20 years in federal prison for each of the drug distribution counts and up to 10 years for each of the felon in possession counts.  Carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime has a mandatory five-year sentence, which would run consecutive to any other sentence imposed.  Indictments are not findings of guilt.  Individuals charged in indictments are presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty in court.  A five-day jury trial has been set for March 27, 2018, before U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby.  Rodriguez, who has entered not guilty pleas to the charges, will remain in custody pending the resolution of this case.  U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul M. Warner found him to be a danger to the community and a risk of non-appearance at a detention hearing.  Salt Lake City police officers are investigating the case.

US v Chris William Espinoza:   A trial is scheduled for May 14, 2018, in a case charging Chris William Espinoza, age 50, of Ogden, with possession of heroin with intent to distribute, possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, possession of a firearm by a restricted person (felon), and possession of firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.  Agents with the Utah State Bureau of Investigation executed a court-authorized state search warrant at a residence in Ogden in September 2017. Agents found heroin and methamphetamine, along with other drugs and drug trafficking paraphernalia.  They also found two semi-automatic handguns. Espinoza is in custody pending resolution of the case. He has entered pleas of not guilty to the charges. The two drug counts each carry potential sentences of 40 years in prison with mandatory-minimum sentences of five years.  The potential maximum sentence for possessing a firearm following a felony conviction is 10 years.  Possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense carries a five-year sentence, imposed consecutive to any other sentence. Indictments are not findings of guilt.  Individuals charged in indictments are presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty in court.  Agents of the State Bureau of Investigation are continuing their investigation of the case.

US v Tohi Ryan Ngata, aka Leaaetohi Ryan Ngata, aka Toni Ngata-Latu: Tohi Ryan Ngata, age 33, of Salt Lake City, was charged in a sealed indictment returned by a federal grand jury Feb. 7, 2018.  The three-count indictment, unsealed Feb. 23, 2018, charges Ngata with possession of a firearm by a restricted person (felon), possession of heroin with intent to distribute, and carrying a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Ngata, who has entered pleas of not guilty to all counts, is in custody pending resolution of the case.  Utah State Bureau of Investigation agents encountered Ngata on Jan. 18, 2018.  They tried to stop Ngata, but he fled on a bike.  Salt Lake City police officers, assisting the agents, were able to detain him.  Agents found a gun in his waistband.  They also found drugs, drug paraphernalia and cash. The potential maximum penalties for the counts in the indictment include 10 years for the firearms count and 20 years for the drug charge. There is a potential fine of $1 million.  Individuals charged in indictments are presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty in court.

 

Topic(s): 
Drug Trafficking
Project Safe Neighborhoods
Component(s): 
Updated March 12, 2018