COLUMBIA, SC — An illegal Mexican immigrant who pleaded guilty in federal court in Columbia this week to conspiring to traffic in drugs brought in 20 pounds of cocaine per shipment and shipped his cash profits back to Mexico, according to prosecutors.
Paulo Espinoza-Ruiz, 43, whom court records say has entered the United States illegally numerous times, made his plea before U.S. Judge Margaret Seymour on Wednesday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney J.D. Rowell characterized Espinoza-Ruiz as a significant player in importing cocaine to South Carolina, well above a street-level dealer. Some of the cocaine he brought into South Carolina was to be consumed here, while some was to be shipped around the South, up to Virginia and also to Georgia, he said.
A court-appointed Spanish interpreter gave a simultaneous translation of court statements during his appearance at the Matthew Perry federal courthouse.
According to Rowell and court records, Espinoza-Ruiz was arrested last Nov. 8 at 1555 Ivy Road near Cassatt, a small rural community in Kershaw County about six miles northeast of Camden.
At the house, federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents who were executing a search warrant discovered some $400,000 in cash and a cache of guns and ammunition as well as a cell phone. That cell phone provided clues that led to the seizure of some five kilograms (about 10 pounds) of cocaine in South Carolina in early November, Rowell said in court.
Rowell also told Seymour that, according to evidence in the case, Espinoza-Ruiz oversaw at least three shipments of cocaine totaling 30 kilograms (about 66 pounds) during October and early November. The shipments came from Mexico to South Carolina, Rowell said.
During that time, he also shipped some $400,000 in cash stuffed in ice coolers back to Mexico, Rowell said.
Each kilogram of cocaine has a street value of up to $37,000 each, Rowell said, so the total amount of cocaine flowing into South Carolina in Espinoza-Ruiz’s operation was up to $1.1 million.
Espinoza-Ruiz could get a minimum of 10 years in prison, with no parole, and a fine of up to $10 million. Seymour will sentence Espinoza-Ruiz at a later date.
Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.