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San Diego meth trafficker who hid out in rural Minnesota pleads guilty

An alleged major methamphetamine trafficker who based his business in San Diego but often hid out in a small northern Minnesota town pleaded guilty Friday to federal conspiracy charges.

Reyes Espinoza is the lead defendant in a 60-person indictment filed last summer, accused of being a large-scale source of meth that was distributed throughout San Diego County and the nation.

Espinoza, 36, pleaded guilty in San Diego federal court to a meth-trafficking conspiracy and a money laundering conspiracy, according to the court docket. He entered an “open” plea, meaning he did so without a plea agreement. In an open plea, there is typically no promise from prosecutors on what kind of sentence will be recommended, and the punishment is often heavily debated during the sentencing hearing.

By forgoing a plea agreement, Espinoza also did not admit to specific details of criminal conduct related to the charges.

Prosecutors say Espinoza was a conduit for the Sinaloa cartel, which produces large quantities of meth in Mexican “superlabs” and then uses San Diego ports of entry as a main smuggling thoroughfare. He allegedly ran the network with help from his family and numerous sub-distributors — many of whom struggled with meth addiction themselves, according to court filings.

Once the meth entered the U.S., the network would disperse it to faraway states — including Iowa, Hawaii, Kansas and Massachusetts — via vehicles, trains and commercial airlines, as well as through the mail and shipping services.

The drug even ended up in Australia and New Zealand, where it can be sold at a premium, prosecutors alleged.

While Espinoza primarily lived in San Ysidro, he purchased a 23-acre rural property in Remer, Minn. — population 400 — and often retreated there to manage the business remotely, prosecutors said. The property is among the assets that the Department of Justice is attempting to seize as part of the case.

Espinoza was arrested in San Diego last year as he got off a plane from Minnesota.

Investigators also said the case uncovered a reverse pipeline of U.S. guns heading into Mexico. Some 90 firearms — from homemade to antique to modern — were seized from Espinoza’s homes or other locations tied to the distribution ring. The indictment does not address firearms trafficking.

A sentencing date has been tentatively set for July. He faces a minimum mandatory term of 10 years in prison, and possibly more.

Several other defendants have already pleaded guilty in the case.

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