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Landscaper deported for role in pot-debt robbery

A Medford man who helped two men try to collect on a six-figure marijuana deal was sentenced to prison and deportation for a second time Thursday in U.S. District Court.

Adrian Rivera-Espinosa, 40, was sentenced to just over a year in prison and ordered deported back to Mexico after two California men used his home to attempt to collect on a marijuana debt, threatening the victim with dismemberment if he didn’t comply. Rivera-Espinosa already had pleaded guilty to a felony count of coercion in state court in the case.

More than 30 members of Rivera-Espinosa’s family, including at least three of his children, had mere moments to say goodbye as he passed them in jail scrubs and handcuffs after being sentenced.

“I been in this wonderful country for 22 years,” said Rivera-Espinosa, a local landscaper. “I know I’m gonna miss this, and I’m sorry.”

Rivera-Espinosa had entered the country legally in 1996, but lost his residency in 2002, after he was convicted in federal court of trafficking cocaine, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Byron Chatfield.

“That is something we usually don’t see,” Chatfield said. “He squandered that.”

Lawyer Larry Roloff, who represented Rivera-Espinosa in his Jackson County Circuit Court case and in the federal immigration case, said that aside from his immigration status, Rivera-Espinosa had spent years abiding by the law since he re-entered the country in 2009.

That changed in 2017, when Rivera-Espinosa lured a man identified as Cesar Andres Olmedo-Pena to his home, where two men from Corning, California, were waiting for him.

Rafael Olivera Valencia and Jose Alfredo Butanda of California held Olmedo-Pena for ransom and threatened to cut off his fingers and limbs to reach a man who owed them $200,000 for 270 pounds of marijuana, according to documents filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The victim reportedly denied knowing who they were talking about, then pleaded with Valencia and Butanda, offering his pickup truck as collateral, according to court documents filed earlier this month.

Valencia and Butanda took the truck, and the men gave the victim roughly two hours to give them its title. During this window, Olmedo-Pena called police.

By Sept. 20 of last year, police had seized hundreds of pounds of marijuana from Rivera-Espinosa’s property in the 1100 block of Pinecroft Avenue. Rivera-Esponsa, spelled as “Rivera-Espinoza” in state court records, pleaded guilty to a felony count of coercion in the case, and has been held in the Jackson County Jail since, records show.

Rosio Rivera, Rivera-Espinosa’s estranged wife and mother of his four children, said in court that he stepped in thinking he was helping a friend. She said that she and her family now have passports, adding that they intend to move close to the Mexico border so they can be near him and visit after he’s deported.

“He got involved in this situation thinking he was helping someone, and now he’s here,” Rivera said to U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken.

Aiken told Rivera-Espinosa she remembers sentencing him to more than 2-1/2 years in the 2002 cocaine case, and said she’s certain she warned him of the consequences he’d face if he entered the country illegally. Aiken sentenced him to one year, one day in prison. He’ll be deported afterwards.

“You put yourself in a terrible position and you didn’t have to do it,” Aiken said.

Aiken said she hoped younger generations would take away the importance of staying away from the drug trade.

“Once you step over the line, there are no rules,” Aiken said, adding that drug traffickers don’t collect debts through the court system; rather they use bullets and bodily harm.

Valencia and Butanda have pleaded no-contest in the Jackson County case, and Valencia separately faces deportation in U.S. District Court in Medford. Valencia’s hearing is currently scheduled for Nov. 15, allowing his family to attend the hearing.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

Adrian Rivera-Espinosa
A plainclothes officer walks past marijuana seized by MADGE last year. Mail Tribune file photo