Cartel’s 4-kilo delivery of fentanyl took an unexpected turn in Gulfport, agent says

Francisco Alejandro Espinosa-Suarez and Juan Francisco Espinal-Tejada
Francisco Alejandro Espinosa-Suarez and Juan Francisco Espinal-Tejada

Federal agents intercepted four kilos of fentanyl destined for the Mississippi Coast in a delivery by couriers for the Sinaloa Cartel, one of the world’s most powerful crime organizations, an affidavit says.

A DEA and Gulfport police tactical team arrested Francisco Espinosa-Suarez, 31, and Juan Espinal-Tejada, 37, at the Island View Casino Resort in Gulfport on Sept. 2, a DEA Task Force agent wrote in his affidavit.

The couriers, arrested in a sting operation, expected to collect a $244,000 payment for the drugs and to be paid $8,000 each for delivering the drugs, the agent said.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid similar to morphine but 50 to 100 times more potent, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It is available legally only by prescription.

A confidential informant’s tip led to their arrest, the document said.

According to a criminal complaint, the drugs were originally intended for delivery to a different area. Suarez and Tejada were in Tennessee on Aug. 28 when a cartel member directed Suarez to have the fentanyl picked up in Phoenix, Arizona. Tejada drove to Phoenix to get the drugs. The two men planned to deliver the drugs in Columbus, Ohio, but the buyer backed out.

On Sept. 1, a cartel member directed Suarez to take the drugs to Gulfport, the agent said.

The next day, the couriers met with a confidential source to inspect the fentanyl at the Super 8 motel on U.S. 90 in Bay St. Louis, the agent said. The couriers were told they would have to follow the source to Gulfport to receive their payment.

They drove to the Island View, where the Suarez and Tejada were arrested. The drugs were found on the floorboard of a 2016 GMC pickup along with two loaded firearms. Tejada admitted the firearms were his.

In an interview, Suarez said it wasn’t his first time to deliver narcotics, the affidavit says.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Walker denied bond for each of them Thursday.

Tejada is a U.S. citizen, but Suarez had previously been deported and has prior convictions that include domestic battery, invasion of privacy and failure to appear in court, detention orders show.

Walker ordered the case turned over to a grand jury.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews