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Firearms, Ammunition & Explosives

Former NM mayor sentenced to more than 4 years in firearms trafficking case

LAS CRUCES, N.M. — A former mayor of the village of Columbus, N.M., was sentenced Thursday to four years and three months in federal prison in connection with a firearms straw purchasing and trafficking scheme. The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Eddie Espinoza, 52, was sentenced to 51 months in federal prison. In addition, he was ordered to be placed under supervised release for three years after he completes his prison term. There is no parole in the federal prison system.

In July 2011, Espinoza pleaded guilty to conspiracy, making false statements to acquire firearms, and smuggling firearms into Mexico. By pleading guilty, he admitted that from January 2010 to March 2011, he conspired with others in a firearms straw purchasing and trafficking scheme. During the June 14 sentencing hearing, it was revealed that Espinoza bought 16 firearms from Chaparral Guns in Chaparral, N.M. To make these purchases, he falsely stated on the required federal forms that he was the actual purchaser of the firearms. However, he knew that the purchased firearms were illegally destined to people in Mexico.

Also revealed during the sentencing hearing was that as part of the conspiracy, Espinoza had agreed to allow former village of Columbus Trustee Blas Gutierrez and others to use city-owned vehicles to transport straw-purchased firearms to Mexico.

Espinoza is the fourth of 12 convicted defendants to be sentenced in this case, including former Columbus Police Chief Angelo Vega, and Gutierrez. No other sentencing dates have been scheduled.

In addition to HSI, the following agencies also participated in the investigation: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Drug Enforcement Administration; Comandante Chihuahua State Police in Palomas, Mexico; and Secretariat of Public Security in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

The following other agencies provided assistance with the investigation: U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), CBP's Border Patrol, New Mexico State Police, Las Cruces Police Department, El Paso Police Department, and other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.