A federal grand jury has indicted a Vancouver man in connection with a fentanyl distribution scheme that led to the overdose death of a Portland teenager in March.
Manuel Antonio Souza Espinoza, 24, is charged in U.S. District Court in Portland with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute fentanyl, resulting in death; possession with intent to distribute fentanyl; and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.
He appeared Tuesday in federal court and pleaded not guilty to the charges, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorneys Office District of Oregon. U.S. Magistrate Judge Jolie A. Russo ordered Souza Espinoza be detained while the case is pending.
Investigators determined that Souza Espinoza, who officials call a “known, high-volume Portland area drug dealer,” was a supplier of the counterfeit “M30” oxycodone pills, made of fentanyl, that led to the teen’s fatal overdose, the news release states.
The Oregonian reports that Souza Espinoza is suspected of being two people removed from the teenager who delivered the drug to 16-year-old Griffin Hoffmann, citing prosecutors and Hoffmann’s parents and friends.
“All overdose cases are tragic, but this one involving a person so young was heartbreaking, and our sympathies are extended to his loved ones,” Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said in the news release.
“Any time an arrest like this is made, our city gets a little bit safer,” Lovell said. “However, addressing this issue is going to take more than law enforcement. We need the community to recognize this problem and help us promote awareness that these fentanyl pills and powder are lethal and are a significant threat to our community.”
On March 31, investigators arranged to meet up with Souza Espinoza to buy 1,000 pills. When he arrived, he was immediately arrested, the news release states. Officers allegedly found the pills in his car, along with a loaded .40-caliber handgun with an extended magazine.
If convicted, Souza Espinoza faces a potential maximum sentence of life in prison.
The case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations, the Portland Police Bureau and the Multnomah County, Ore., District Attorney’s Office, with assistance from the Clackamas County, Ore., Inter-agency Task Force. Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott M. Kerin is prosecuting the case.