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Contraband
09/06/2011

California man sentenced to 18.5 years for drug trafficking in North Dakota

FARGO, N.D. — A California man was sentenced on Tuesday to 18.5 years in federal prison for his role as a supplier in a large-scale drug-trafficking and money-laundering conspiracy that was targeted by a federal organized crime investigation called "Operation Budapest."

U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon, District of North Dakota, announced this sentence. This joint investigation was led by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Victor Espinoza, 24, of Piru, Calif., was sentenced on Sept. 6 to 222 months in prison after federal agents nabbed him last summer in North Dakota transporting a large quantity of illegal drugs. So far, 30 people have been sentenced for the crimes uncovered by this Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation.

During the course of the conspiracy, a known drug trafficking organization transported more than 50 pounds of methamphetamine from California to North Dakota, Minnesota and Nebraska. Large quantities of cocaine and marijuana were also distributed using the smuggling routes laid out by the organization.

"This sentence is a great example of HSI's mission to halt the flow of international illegal drugs and shows just how serious all law enforcement agencies are taking the threat of drug traffickers in America's heartland," said Special Agent in Charge Mike Feinberg, of the Bloomington ICE HSI office. "HSI remains committed to working with our law enforcement partners to dismantle and disrupt these criminal conspiracies."

"Let there be no mistake, the tentacles of drug trafficking organizations on or near our country's southwest border reach right here into our homes and communities in North Dakota," Purdon said. "At the North Dakota U.S. Attorney's Office, we recognize this fact and have prioritized combating these criminal organizations that would poison our children and destroy our way of life. Intelligence-based investigations like Operation Budapest protect our community by targeting the leaders of these organizations and bringing them to justice."

The following list of defendants, which includes their residence locations, criminal charges, and imposed sentences, have been sentenced from the Operation Budapest investigation:

  • Victor Lopez-Diaz – Long Prairie, Minn.; conspiracy to distribute controlled substances – 252 months
  • Thomas Desotel – Fargo, N.D.; conspiracy to distribute controlled substances – 240 months
  • Jodi Richter – Fargo, N.D.; conspiracy to distribute controlled substances – 216 months
  • Brian Lizakowski – Grand Forks, N.D.; conspiracy to distribute controlled substances – 196 months
  • Mark Erwin Brown – Fargo, N.D.; conspiracy to distribute controlled substances – 174 months
  • Gerald Cree – Grand Forks, N.D.; conspiracy to distribute controlled substances – 168 months
  • Robert Norquay – Dunseith, N.D.; conspiracy to distribute controlled substances – 144 months
  • Bruce Applegren – Fargo, N.D.; conspiracy to distribute controlled substances – 132 months
  • Brooke Pangle – Fargo, N.D.; conspiracy to distribute controlled substances – 126 months
  • Roberta Hassett – Fargo, N.D.; conspiracy to distribute controlled substances – 125 months
  • Diana Gamboa – East Grand Forks, Minn.; conspiracy to distribute controlled substances – 120 months
  • Cassidy James Machipiness – Grand Forks, N.D.; conspiracy to distribute controlled substances – 120 months
  • Derek Metzger – Grand Forks, N.D.; conspiracy to distribute controlled substances – 120 months
  • Edwin A. Vasquez – Guatemala; conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and money laundering conspiracy – 108 months
  • Brian Kelly Martineau – Grand Forks, N.D.; conspiracy to distribute controlled substances – 108 months
  • Michael John Baird – East Grand Forks, Minn.; conspiracy to distribute controlled substances – 91 months
  • Lisa Marie Henson – Fargo, N.D.; conspiracy to distribute controlled substances – 78 months
  • Jody Campbell – Fargo, N.D.; conspiracy to distribute controlled substances – 72 months
  • Victor Manuel Zamora – Vasquez – Durango, Mexico; conspiracy to distribute controlled substances – 64 months
  • Michael James Hobus – Grand Forks, N.D.; conspiracy to distribute controlled substances – 60 months
  • Chris Foley – Grand Forks, N.D.; conspiracy to distribute controlled substances – 60 months
  • Jennifer Broadway – Fargo, N.D.; conspiracy to distribute controlled substances – 48 months
  • Brianna Marie Smith – Mahnomen, Minn.; misprison of a felony – 15 months
  • Amanda Arndt – Fargo, N.D.; accessory after the fact – three years of probation
  • Robert Allen Foss – Long Prairie, Minn.; conspiracy to distribute controlled substances – three years of probation
  • Ashly Mae Pierson – Fargo, N.D.; felon in possession of a firearm – three years of probation

This investigation also revealed a separate organization that moved nearly 2,000 pounds of marijuana into North Dakota. The following defendants were sentenced in that case:

  • Jilberto Fernandez-Toscano – Colima, Mexico; conspiracy to distribute controlled substances – 78 months
  • Lisa Marie Fernandez – Fargo, N.D.; conspiracy to distribute controlled substances – 27 months

Operation Budapest also brought to justice, Jesse Walters, 26, Fargo, N.D., who distributed methamphetamine which resulted in the death of a 25-year-old Fargo man in the fall of 2009. Walters received a 27-year sentence for his role in that death.

Assets seized during the investigation included residences in Avoca, Minn., and Worthington, Minn., a 2001 Mercedes Benz, a 2000 Cadillac STS, and about $22,000 in cash.

The following other agencies assisted with this investigation: the Internal Revenue Service; the U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Nebraska; Nebraska State Patrol, Ventura County Sheriff's Department (Calif.); the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation; Grand Forks, N.D. Police Department; Clay County Sheriff's Department (N.D.); North Dakota Parole and Probation; Grand Forks County States' Attorney's Office; Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension; Central Minnesota Drug and Gang Task Force; Long Prairie Police Department (Minn.); Todd County Sheriff's Department (Minn.); and the Polk County Attorney's Office (Minn.).