Espinoza v. United States, Criminal Case Number 10-20635

Decision Date20 April 2020
Docket NumberCivil Case Number 16-12255/16-13848,Criminal Case Number 10-20635
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Michigan

Honorable David M. Lawson


Petitioners Christopher Espinoza and Hector Santana were part of a Chicago-based drug trafficking organization that sold cocaine to distributors in Detroit. They both worked for Manuel Antonio Soto. When one of Soto's middlemen in Michigan did not pay for a cocaine shipment, Soto and his confederates cooked up a plan to collect the funds. He sent a handful of individuals to Michigan, including Espinoza and Santana, either to find the money or kidnap the middleman and bring him back to Chicago. The plan was to arrange for a supposed drug delivery, and when Soto's people showed up with the cocaine, they would pull their guns on the middleman and take either him or the money. The plan took some twists and turns, but Espinoza, Santana, and others eventually were arrested and charged with kidnapping, drug, and firearm offenses. Santana was convicted at a trial of conspiracy and distribution of cocaine, conspiracy to commit kidnapping and kidnapping, and two counts of brandishing firearms, one in connection with a drug trafficking crime and the other in connection with a crime of violence (kidnapping). Espinoza was acquitted of the drug conspiracy charge but convicted on all the other counts. They each received lengthy sentences, including a mandatory 25-year consecutive sentence on the second firearm offense. Their convictions and sentences were affirmed on appeal. United States v. Soto, 794 F.3d 635 (6th Cir. 2015).

Espinoza and Santana each have filed motions to vacate their sentences under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Both contend that they were denied the effective assistance of trial counsel for various reasons, and that their convictions for brandishing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence are invalid because kidnapping is not a valid predicate offense for that crime. Espinoza also says that he should be resentenced and given the benefit of the United States Sentencing Commission's guideline Amendment 794, which clarified the application of the section addressing an offense level adjustment for a minor participant. Supreme Court caselaw handed down after the petitioners' direct appeal requires that the crime-of-violence firearm sentences be vacated. The other arguments do not merit relief. The Court will grant the motions in part and deny them in part, vacate the convictions and sentences for brandishing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, and schedule the case for resentencing.


Espinoza, Santana, and two codefendants (Soto and Juan Ramon Respardo-Ramirez) were charged in a Fourth Superseding Indictment filed on April 2, 2013, with five counts: conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A)(ii)(II) (Count 1), conspiracy to kidnap in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(1)(C) (Count 5), kidnapping, aiding and abetting in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1201 (Count 6), possession of a firearm in furtherance of and during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime in violation of (18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(ii)) (Count 7), and possession of a firearm in furtherance of and during and in relation to a crime of violence in violation of (18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(C)(i)) (Count 8). The guns charged in counts 7 and 8 were a Llama Mini Max 45-caliber sub-compactsemi-automatic handgun, a Pietro Beretta Model 92 9mm caliber semi-automatic, and a Colt Model Cup National Match Model 45-caliber semi-automatic handgun with serial number NM50277. In addition, Santana, Soto, and Espinoza were charged with possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine, aiding and abetting in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(B)(ii)(II) (Count 2). The indictment charged that the defendants were involved in a cocaine trafficking conspiracy between November 26, 2008, and January 23, 2012, and that in October 2009, the defendants conspired to kidnap Jose Ezequiel Enriquez-Enriquez for the purpose of collecting a drug debt. The jury convicted the defendants of all charges with the following exceptions: defendant Espinoza was acquitted of Count 1 and defendant Respardo-Ramirez was acquitted of Count 5.

At trial, the government presented testimony from Erik Freeman, Vanissa Gudino, and Jose Bravo-Garcia, along with several law enforcement officers.

Vanissa Gudino testified that Jose Bravo-Garcia was her ex-boyfriend and that he was involved in dealing cocaine. Through her relationship with Bravo-Garcia, she met Hector Santana, whom she called Bravo-Garcia's right-hand man. According to Gudino, Santana picked up and delivered cocaine from Soto for Bravo-Garcia. Jose Bravo-Garcia testified that Soto sold him kilograms of cocaine at a rate of approximately six to eight kilograms per week. Respardo-Ramirez delivered the cocaine to Bravo-Garcia on Soto's behalf. Bravo-Garcia sold cocaine to Freeman through Jose Enriquez-Enriquez. Bravo-Garcia testified that Santana worked for him delivering cocaine, including a delivery of five kilograms of cocaine to Freeman in October 2009. Bravo-Garcia testified that a plan to deliver ten kilograms of cocaine on behalf of Soto to Jose Enriquez-Enriquez and, in turn, to Freeman, went awry when a middleman took the drugs without paying for them.

In October 2009, Gudino and Bravo-Garcia made two trips to Detroit. The first trip included Gudino, Bravo-Garcia, Santana, Espinoza, and Anthony Ramirez. The purpose of the trip was to collect the money owed for the cocaine that Bravo-Garcia fronted or to kidnap the person who had stolen the money; Soto had been "hounding" Bravo-Garcia for the money or for the person who had received the drugs. All the individuals involved were aware of the purpose of the trip and bought zip ties to restrain the victim. The plan was for Bravo-Garcia to pretend to conduct a drug transaction with the victim, Jose Enriquez-Enriquez.

Santana and Espinoza confronted Enriquez-Enriquez with guns and forced him and another unidentified individual into a minivan. They drove to Chicago, where Soto and Respardo-Ramirez joined them. Soto was holding a gun; according to Bravo-Garcia, Respardo-Ramirez also was carrying a gun in the waistband of his pants. After questioning the victims for approximately an hour, Soto left and Respardo-Ramirez remained to watch the victims. At that point, Respardo-Ramirez was holding a gun and occasionally placing the gun on a table.

The next day, Gudino and Bravo-Garcia went on the second trip to Detroit. The purpose of the trip was to rob Erik Freeman, an associate of Enriquez-Enriquez, to recover the money owed to Soto, who agreed to the plan. On the trip were Gudino, Bravo-Garcia, Anthony Ramirez, Espinoza, Santana, and Enriquez-Enriquez. They brought three kilograms of cocaine and three guns, two of which had been provided by Soto. Bravo-Garcia testified that the guns were the same guns that had been used during the kidnapping the day before. The unknown victim remained in Chicago with Respardo-Ramirez. When the group met Freeman, they gave Freeman the cocaine to test one kilogram at a time. Freeman entered a house to retrieve money to pay for the cocaine, and Bravo-Garcia, Espinoza, Ramirez, and Santana followed him in, carrying guns. Bravo-Garcia, Espinoza, and Ramirez pointed guns at Freeman, and Freeman and Enriquez-Enriquez dropped tothe ground. Bravo-Garcia took the money out to the van, and returned to the house, where, he testified, Santana had tied Freeman to a pole in the basement. The men returned to the cars with money and the cocaine and drove away.

Both cars later were stopped by police. Bravo-Garcia called Soto to inform him that the police pulled over their vehicles, and he kept the phone connected during the stop so that Soto would believe him. After they were released by the police, Gudino and Bravo-Garcia returned to Chicago in a cab, and the unknown victim was no longer there.

Erik Freeman testified that he was involved in selling cocaine with Jose Enriquez-Enriquez and Francisco Enriquez-Enriquez. The Enriquez-Enriquez brothers sold Freeman cocaine that they obtained from suppliers in Chicago, including Santana and Bravo-Garcia. Freeman testified that in October 2009, Jose Enriquez-Enriquez called him and told him that he had cocaine to sell from his sources in Chicago. Freeman met with Enriquez-Enriquez, Santana, Bravo-Garcia, Espinoza, Bravo-Garcia's girlfriend, and a man with facial tattoos. They proceeded to a house on Washburn in two separate cars, and Enriquez-Enriquez, Santana, and Bravo-Garcia walked kilograms of cocaine into the residence one at a time. Freeman cooked some of the cocaine to ensure that it was pure. The group then moved to a house on Asbury Park to complete the transaction. Freeman entered the house carrying the money with the other men walking behind him. Bravo-Garcia, Espinoza, and the man with the facial tattoos pulled out guns and pointed them at Freeman. Freeman asked the men to take the money and leave. Bravo-Garcia told Freeman to go into the basement, where Freeman was duct-taped to a pole. Either Espinoza or the man with facial tattoos removed Freeman's wallet, keys, and phone from his pocket. Freeman freed himself about an hour later. The government introduced intercepted conversations betweenFreeman and several of his associates relating to cocaine transactions, the robbery, and the kidnapping.

Jon Gerksy testified that on October 22, 2009, when he was employed as a City of Taylor police officer, he pulled over a car being driven by Jose Enriquez-Enriquez, whom he arrested for driving with a suspended license. Espinoza and Santana also were...

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