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Inmate accused of selling phantom weapons at location frequented by Buffalo supermarket shooter

A former Louisiana prison inmate has been charged with selling ghost weapons to the prison as part of a social media operation exposed after the massacre of 10 black people by white supremacists at a Buffalo supermarket, New York authorities said Tuesday.

Hayden Espinosa, 24, is accused of selling illegal firearms and firearm components to an undercover New York City Police Department officer through a Telegram channel he moderated that promotes white supremacist and neo-Nazi views and counted the supermarket shooter among his visitors, Manhattan District said attorney Alvin Bragg.

Authorities said that using cellphones smuggled into the Pollock Federal Correctional Complex in Louisiana, Espinosa continued to operate his business following his 2022 conviction for 3D printing and selling gun components in Texas. Court documents show he actively advertised the sale of illegal handguns, high-capacity magazines, silencers and devices called autosears, used to convert pistols and rifles into automatic weapons. The indictment states that he allegedly sold or attempted to sell weapons and components to an undercover officer on three separate occasions in 2023.

“This defendant, who was serving time for selling unregistered machine gun parts, sold guns and gun parts from the privacy of his cell,” Rebecca Weiner, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner for counterterrorism and intelligence, said at a news conference.

Bragg’s office said Espinosa, of Corpus Christi, Texas, was released from prison on June 4 and immediately arrested on the New York indictment. It was unclear whether he had a lawyer in the new case. He is scheduled for a hearing on June 24.

Police discovered Espinosa’s Telegram channel in May 2022 after Payton Gendron’s attack on a Tops supermarket that killed 10 Black customers and employees and injured three other people, Weiner said.

“The initial discovery of this Telegram chat was one that Peyton Gendron frequented, so that’s the genesis of the case,” she said.

Gendron pleaded guilty to murder and hate-motivated terrorism and is serving a life sentence without parole. He is awaiting trial on related federal charges that could result in the death penalty.

Carolyn Thompson, Associated Press