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Former Columbus mayor convicted of arms smuggling gets early release

Former Columbus Mayor Eddie Espinoza

Former Columbus Mayor Eddie Espinoza (Journal File)

The former mayor of a New Mexico border town convicted of smuggling firearms to Mexico has been released early from federal prison.

Eddie Espinoza, 53, served about a year of his sentence – which was a little more than four years – for conspiracy, firearms trafficking and making false statements in purchasing firearms, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The former mayor of Columbus was released Nov. 26 for good conduct and will remain under probation supervision for three years, according to prisons spokesman Ed Ross.

A joint investigation in 2011 by U.S. and Mexico law enforcement agencies nabbed a gun-smuggling ring of more than a dozen people. Along with Espinoza, former Columbus Police Chief Angelo Vega and former village trustee Blas “Woody” Gutierrez were among the defendants who pleaded guilty in the case.

Espinoza admitted he bought 16 firearms from a gun store in Chaparral and lied on federal forms, saying he was the buyer when he knew the guns were headed to criminals in Mexico. Espinoza allowed Gutierrez and others to use vehicles belonging to the municipality to transport straw—purchased firearms to Mexico, according to the Justice Department.

Private ownership of weapons is illegal in Mexico, with few exceptions. At the time, much of northern Chihuahua – including Palomas, the town just across the border from Columbus – was terrorized by violence as Mexican drug cartels battled over critical crossing points into the United States.

Espinoza pleaded guilty in July 2011 to one count of conspiracy, three counts of making false statements when acquiring firearms and three counts of smuggling firearms from the United States. He entered prison on Oct. 15, 2012.

Ross said Espinoza’s record indicated he earned 146 days of good conduct time and had a prior credit of 462 days.

Espinoza’s former attorney, Howard Anderson, said Espinoza served nearly two years of prison time between his arrest and sentencing.

Officials of the U.S. Marshals office and U.S. Probation office in Albuquerque declined to provide information on Espinoza’s current whereabouts.