GREAT FALLS — A federal jury today convicted a Washington man of drug trafficking charges after he was accused of bringing methamphetamine and fentanyl to Great Falls and the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation for distribution, U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich said.
After a two-day trial that began on Aug. 16, the jury found Aaron Ramirez Espinoza, 37, of Yakima, Washington, guilty of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances and possession with intent to distribute controlled substances as charged in a superseding indictment. Espinoza faces a mandatory minimum 10 years to life in prison, a $10 million fine and at least five years of supervised release.
Chief U.S. District Judge Brian M. Morris presided. Chief Judge Morris set sentencing for Dec. 1. The court will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. Espinoza remains detained pending further proceedings.
“Removing from our streets drug traffickers like Espinoza who poison our communities with these highly addictive and dangerous drugs continues to be a top priority for our office and our law enforcement partners. I want to thank Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan R. Plaut, along with the FBI, Russell Country Drug Task Force and Great Falls Police Department for their diligent work on this case,” U.S. Attorney Laslovich said.
In court documents and at trial, the government alleged that in May 2021, law enforcement seized fentanyl pills from a witness, who identified his suppliers as a group of men from Yakima. The investigation led to Espinoza being identified as a member of this group. Law enforcement further learned that Espinoza was bringing drugs to Montana for distribution. On May 12, 2022, officers arrested Espinoza at a Great Falls business’ gas station, searched him and found in his jacket pocket a pouch containing a bag of meth and two bags of fentanyl pills. Officers also located a scale, a number of credit cards and a Washington identification card. Espinoza told law enforcement he was in a gang in Washington and that the drugs recovered were for personal use. However, Espinoza later said he had been going to meet someone at the business but that they never showed up and that he was “trying to make a living.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan R. Plaut is prosecuting the case, which was investigated by the FBI, Russell Country Drug Task Force and Great Falls Police Department.
This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and gun violence, and to make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. On May 26, 2021, the Department launched a violent crime reduction strategy strengthening PSN based on these core principles: fostering trust and legitimacy in our communities, supporting community-based organizations that help prevent violence from occurring in the first place, setting focused and strategic enforcement priorities, and measuring the results.