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Fentanyl dealer charged in death of Portland high school student, prosecutors say

Griffin Hoffmann, 16, was one of two Portland teens who died after overdosing on fentanyl-laced pills in March.
Credit: Kerry Cohen

PORTLAND, Ore. — A Vancouver fentanyl dealer faces federal charges in connection with the overdose death of a Portland high school student in March, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Oregon.

In March, two Multnomah County teenagers died after overdosing on fentanyl-laced pills. One of those teens was later identified as 16-year-old Griffin Hoffmann, a student of McDaniel High School. The other teen who died was also a McDaniel student.

Hoffmann's family confirmed to KGW that the charges announced Tuesday were in connection with his death. A press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office did not identify the teen.

According to federal court documents, an investigation into Hoffmann's death found that he'd taken one of the increasingly ubiquitous counterfeit "M30" Oxycodone pills, which contained fentanyl.

The investigation eventually led to Manuel Antonio Souza Espinoza, 24, a "third-level" supplier of counterfeit pills in the Portland area, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

According to court documents, a confidential informant told investigators that Espinoza arranged deals through the messaging app Telegram, referring to a delivery of 1,000 pills as a "boat," which the informant had bought previously for $2,500 each.

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At the end of March, investigators set up a meeting with Espinoza through the informant, arranging to buy 1,000 of the blue pills. Police arrested Espinoza when he arrived for the meet. Federal prosecutors said that the requested pills and a loaded .40 caliber handgun with an extended magazine were found in his vehicle.

In April, a federal grand jury indicted Espinoza on two charges: possession with intent to distribute fentanyl; and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. A third charge — conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute fentanyl, resulting in death — was added in May, after Hoffman's toxicology report confirmed that he'd died as a result of a fentanyl overdose.

Espinoza made his first appearance in federal court on Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jolie A. Russo. He was arraigned, entered a plea of not guilty and was ordered detained pending further court proceedings

If convicted, Espinoza faces a maximum sentence of life in federal prison.

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“Our community is flooded with counterfeit prescription pills that can take an innocent victim’s life in the blink of an eye. Sadly, taking a pill to get high does not have the same stigma or barrier to entry for many unwitting victims, leading to tragic results,” said Scott Erik Asphaug, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon. “We urge everyone, regardless of age, to talk with their friends and loved ones about the risks of taking pills not prescribed to them by a medical professional. Please help to protect those closest to you while we in law enforcement continue to battle this urgent public health and safety crisis.”

Early data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that there were more than 100,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. during the 12-month period ending in April 2021, an increase of nearly 29% from the year before. Synthetic opioids like fentanyl accounted for more than three-quarters of those deaths.

Drug overdoses are currently the leading cause of injury or death in the U.S.

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