Pair sentenced in Georgia prison heroin conspiracy

An undercover source informed law enforcement in June 2020 about drug trafficking being coordinated by Gilbert from the Calhoun State Prison, including his affiliation with a Mexican drug trafficking cartel


The Albany Herald, Ga.

ALBANY, Ga. — Two individuals involved in a heroin and methamphetamine trafficking network directed by inmates from two Georgia prisons were sentenced to federal prison for their crimes.

Joseph Collins, 38, of Augusta State Prison, was sentenced to 240 months in prison to be followed by five years of supervised release after pleading guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances. Co-defendant Christopher Ogle, 38, of Dalton, was sentenced to 132 months in prison to be followed by five years of supervised release after pleading guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances. U.S. District Judge Leslie Gardner handed down the sentences. There is no parole in the federal system.

Co-defendant Eric Gilbert, 46, of Calhoun State Prison, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances on April 20, 2022, and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $10 million fine. Gilbert's sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 22.

Co-defendant Natalie Espinoza, 27, of Sugar Hill, is charged with one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances. If convicted, Espinoza faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $10 million fine. Espinoza is a wanted person; those with knowledge of her whereabouts can contact the United States Marshals Service by calling 1-877-WANTED-2.

"Our office will hold inmates accountable for continued criminal activity occurring behind prison walls, which threatens the safety of incarcerated individuals, prison staff and the community at large," U.S. Attorney Peter D. Leary said in a news release. " The U.S. Attorney's Office is working closely with our law enforcement partners to identify repeat offenders and bring them to justice."

"These sentencings remove dangerous criminals from our streets and send a clear message to others who may be contemplating or who are polluting our communities with poison from behind prison walls," Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division Robert J. Murphy said. "The takeaway is that DEA and its law enforcement partners have a watchful eye on such criminals and will relentlessly pursue them."

According to court documents, an undercover source informed law enforcement in June 2020 about drug trafficking being coordinated by Gilbert from the Calhoun State Prison, including information about his affiliation with the Ghost Face Gangster criminal street gang and a Mexican drug trafficking cartel. The source said Gilbert had customers across the Southeast.

On June 16, 2020, the source ordered heroin from Collins, who was an inmate at Augusta State Prison. Collins directed the source to Gilbert; Gilbert was recorded stating that he had been distributing heroin and methamphetamine for 10 years. Gilbert arranged the deal later that day with the source. Espinoza, who is a wanted person, delivered approximately 80 grams of heroin.

Espinoza allegedly worked with Gilbert to coordinate illegal drug transactions for him outside of prison. A series of controlled and recorded purchases of heroin and methamphetamine occurred. On Jan. 5, 2021, officers in Whitfield County received information that Gilbert was supplying methamphetamine to Ogle. Under surveillance, the informant agreed to purchase one kilogram of methamphetamine from Gilbert, supplied by Ogle. Ogle agreed to meet the informant on Jan. 6, 2021; as agents closed in on Ogle, he threw a Ziploc bag and his phone into a nearby pond. Agents retrieved the phone and the plastic bag, which contained 772 grams of methamphetamine.

The case was investigated by DEA and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Leah McEwen.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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