Posted on June 19, 2012

U.S. Mayor Smuggled Weapons to Mexican Drug Cartel: Police

Jim Kouri, Examiner, June 16, 2012

The mayor of a New Mexico town located near the U.S.-Mexican border, who had been convicted of smuggling weapons to a violent Mexican organized crime gang, was sentenced on Thursday to more than four years in prison, according to a police official.

Edward “Eddie” Espinoza, the now ousted mayor of Columbus, was sentenced by District Judge Robert Brack in federal court in Las Cruces, New Mexico, according to investigators.

In addition to the prison sentence, Judge Brack ordered three years of supervised release for Espinoza, who pleaded guilty in July 2011 to conspiracy, three counts of making false statements in the acquisition of firearms and three counts of smuggling firearms out of the United States into a foreign country.

The 58-year-old Democrat faced as much as 50 years in prison but was given a plea deal to identify his co-conspirators in the gun-running conspiracy.

According to prosecutors, between January 2010 and March 2011, Espinoza purchased more than 15 firearms from a gun shop in Chaparral, New Mexico, fabricating information on the federal forms knowing he was buying them for a Mexican gang.

Espinoza also allowed a Columbus Trustee, Blas Gutierrez, who is the alleged ringleader of the conspiracy, to use township vehicles in transporting the firearms into Mexico, law enforcement officials said.

Some of those weapons were later recovered at drug busts and implicated in murders in Mexico, where more than 55,000 people have been killed in gang-related violence since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels in 2006, according to U.S. officials.

Espinoza also admitted he helped to smuggle police gear and bulletproof vests to the Ciudad Juarez-based La Linea criminal organization, sometimes using government vehicles.