Seattle – The mid-level leader of a drug distribution cell that was one of the most violent seen in the Western District of Washington was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to ten years in prison, announced U.S. Attorney Nick Brown. Jose Daniel Espinoza, 35, was indicted and arrested in July 2020, following an 18-month wiretap investigation. At times during the wiretap, law enforcement had to arrest potential targets of the group, or flood the area with marked patrol cars, to keep people safe. At the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour noted that Espinoza had a managing role in a drug trafficking group that used guns and distributed fentanyl – a very dangerous drug.
According to records filed in the case, over the course of the investigation, one person was shot outside a residence where the conspirators were converting methamphetamine from liquid to crystal form. On the wiretap, law enforcement heard conversations about kidnapping plots, and other instances of intimidation through use of violence and firearms.
Espinoza was a source for guns as well as drugs and was involved in providing firearms to conspirators who were collecting debts for the group. Espinoza was also tasked by those above him in the trafficking organization with getting firearms that could be taken through California and smuggled into Mexico.
Based on the seizures before and on the date of the takedown, the group was connected to 45 pounds of methamphetamine; 12 pounds of heroin; 3,200 fentanyl pills; 22 firearms; and $566,391.
In their sentencing memo, prosecutors cited the latest data on overdose deaths noting, “an average of 17 overdose deaths occurred each week in King County in 2022, with the surge in overdose deaths driven by fentanyl, which is involved in 70% of all confirmed overdose deaths that occurred by November of 2022.”
This prosecution is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.
The investigation was conducted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Tacoma Resident Office in partnership with Tahoma Narcotics Enforcement Team (TNET), Kent Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations, SeaTac Police Department, Thurston County Narcotics Team (TNT), the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Amy Jaquette and C. Andrew Colasurdo.