gavel.jpgA Mexican drug trafficker from Richmond has been sentenced in federal court in San Francisco to more than 20 years in prison for his rolein a narcotics ring that sold heroin and methamphetamine in the Bay Area.

Cornelio Mata Espinoza, 31, a Mexican citizen, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer to a charge of conspiring to distribute heroin and methamphetamine.

U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello said Espinoza admitted during the plea that he worked as a manager of a large-scale drug ring with significant ties to Mexico between November 2006 and early 2009.

Breyer sentenced Espinoza on Wednesday to 20 years and 10 months in prison and ordered him to forfeit more than $39,000.

Espinoza will be deported to Mexico when he completes his sentence.

Prosecutors said in a sentencing brief that Espinoza made his way to the United States at age 21 in 2000 and “wasted no time getting involved in drug trafficking.”

The prosecutors said he was arrested six times on drug charges by San Francisco police between 2001 and 2008, convicted three times in state court and deported to Mexico three times after serving short sentences. Each time, Espinoza returned to the U.S., prosecutors said.

Espinoza and seven other members of the alleged ring were arrested on federal charges in February 2009.

The prosecutors alleged that Espinoza was “a menace to the public in general” and had shown “brazen disrespect for the criminal and immigration laws of the United States.”

Espinoza’s defense attorney, Roger Patton, unsuccessfully sought a lesser sentence of 16 years in prison, arguing that there were no allegations that Espinoza used guns or violence.

Patton said in a brief that Espinoza left school in the village of Los Potros in Michoacan, Mexico, after the ninth grade and became addicted to cocaine and crystal methamphetamine after arriving in the U.S. He said Espinoza hopes to complete high school equivalency education and drug rehabilitation while in prison.

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