Drug dealers linked to El Chapo cartel tried to sell cough medicine for $224,000 in Gulfport

Juan Espinal-Tejada, left, and Francisco Espinosa-Suarez
Juan Espinal-Tejada, left, and Francisco Espinosa-Suarez

A drug courier’s life is worth little to the kingpin who heads a cartel, a courier’s attorney told a federal judge on Tuesday before her client was sentenced to prison for selling drugs that turned out to be a non-narcotic cough suppressant.

Judge Louis Guirola Jr. sentenced Juan Espinal-Tejada and Francisco Espinosa-Suarez to five years each in prison for interstate drug trafficking. The Drug Enforcement Agency traced their communications to the Sinaloa Cartel, one of the most notorious operating out of Mexico and headed until his arrest by “El Chapo” Guzman.

Once they’ve served their time, the couriers will be deported to their countries of origin — the Dominican Republic for 37-year-old Espinal-Tejada and Mexico for Espinosa-Suarez, 32.

Both men came years ago to America, eventually settling in Cleveland, Tennessee. They were supposed to be delivering almost nine pounds of the potent and potentially deadly drug fentanyl to an Ohio buyer.

The buyer tested and rejected the substance the drug dealers were trying to sell, so the cartel re-routed the men to Gulfport, according to investigators.

DEA agents were waiting for the couriers at Island View Casino, where they went to collect $224,000 for the fake fentanyl. The men had loaded guns in their vehicle.

The DEA tested the substance seized, finding it was the cough suppressant Noscapine.

Both Espinal-Tejada and Espinosa-Suarez admitted they thought that they were delivering drugs.

“It just goes to demonstrate how expendable couriers are,” Ellen Allred, attorney for Espinosa-Suarez, told the judge. “Had he successfully sold counterfeit as drugs, he could have been hurt or killed, his family marked” for harassment.

Before he was sentenced, Espinal-Tejada told the judge through an interpreter: “I regret very much what I did. I knew it was illegal and I will not do it again.”

Anita Lee: 228-896-2331, @calee99