Former under sheriff guilty
SAN LUIS — It took a 12-person district court jury an estimated 12 hours to find former Costilla County Undersheriff Andrew Espinoza, 41, guilty of 10 felonies and not guilty of two misdemeanors in connection with a four-day trial on wildlife charges.
Returning their verdict Friday afternoon, the four men and eight women found Espinoza guilty of felony illegal sale or purchase of wildlife, big game, illegal or endangered species. He was found not guilty of criminal attempt to tamper with physical evidence and first-degree official misconduct.
When 12th Judicial District Judge Martin Gonzales polled the jury, each person said he/she had supported the felony convictions. He ordered a presentencing investigation and slated Espinoza for sentencing at 11 a.m. Jan. 26 before Chief District Judge Pattie Swift.
Gonzales granted a motion to continue Espinoza’s bond until sentencing and then said as a convicted felon Espinoza would not have a right to possess firearms. He was given 10 days to relinquish them.
Espinoza was Costilla County undersheriff when he allegedly committed offenses while working as a hunting guide and outfitter.
He was arrested and charged in December 2016. Part of the complaint is that he helped his clients hunt on land where they were not permitted.
“Colorado Parks and Wildlife takes hunting violations and crimes against wildlife very seriously,” said Joe Lewandowski, a spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which investigated the case. “Wildlife officers vigorously and thoroughly pursue these cases, as is indicated by this investigation.”
CPW investigators began looking into Espinoza in 2014 after stopping a vehicle near La Junta that was carrying several hunters from West Virginia, the warrant says. In their truck, authorities found four sets of mule deer antlers and several bags of meat but discovered proper regulations had not been followed.
According to the warrant, the hunters told officers they had been hunting in San Luis with a man named “Andy Espinoza” of A&A Outfitters, who was also the undersheriff of Costilla County.
After an extended period of follow-up work, Colorado wildlife officials then began working with Indiana Department of Natural Resources detectives in May 2016 on an undercover operation targeting Espinoza, the warrant shows.
An Indiana detective contacted Espinoza, who allegedly said he charged $4,500 per person for an all-inclusive guided hunt whether it was for deer or elk. Espinoza also told the undercover detective that he was undersheriff of Costilla County
“Espinoza told (the detective) that there were plenty of deer for them to hunt, but a problem would be getting a tag,” the warrant says. “Espinoza explained that the state does it by draw and he would look some stuff up.”
When the undercover officers arrived in Colorado to meet Espinoza for the hunt in November, the warrant alleges Espinoza admitted that the deer license he had instructed them to buy was effectively invalid. The warrant claims Espinoza told them, “the game warden knew what vehicles (Espinoza) drove and that the game warden would leave them alone.”