SAN LUIS — Former Costilla County undersheriff Andrew Espinoza was sentenced Jan. 26, 2018, following a four-day trial on wildlife charges. His conviction was vacated March 5 by the Colorado Court of Appeals.
His sentence was overturned and the case was sent back for trial. A trial date was set for Aug. 19, 2020, in Costilla County Court.
Dec. 8, 2017, it took a 12-person district court jury an estimated 12 hours to find Espinoza, 43, guilty of nine felonies and not guilty of three misdemeanors following a four-day trial on wildlife charges.
The matter came before this appellate court on Espinoza’s motion to vacate sentence upon reversal of conviction.
The 12th Judicial District considered the motion and the order of the Colorado Court of Appeals dated March 5, 2020, vacating Mr. Espinoza’s judgment of conviction, and the grounds for relief set forth therein, it is hereby: Ordered and determined that the sentence imposed by the local court Jan. 26, 2018, was vacated to the date of the reversal of his judgment of conviction, March 5, 2020.
The jury 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, first-degree official misconduct and wildlife - communicating with electronics.
He also faced a $5,000 fish and game fine, $1,800 probation supervision fee and a $3,330 assessment to the victim’s assistance fund.
A felon, Espinoza will not have a right to possess firearms and was ordered to relinquish them within 10 days after the jury verdict.
Espinoza was Costilla County undersheriff when he committed offenses while working on his own as a hunting guide and outfitter.
He was arrested and charged in December 2016 for offenses dating back to Nov. 4, 2014. Part of the complaint is that he allegedly helped his clients hunt on land where they were not permitted.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife (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 states, Espinoza admitted that the deer license he had instructed them to buy was effectively invalid. The warrant says Espinoza told them, “the game warden knew what vehicles (Espinoza) drove and that the game warden would leave them alone.”