BOISE -- Francisco Cardona-Rodriguez, 38, a Mexican national formerly residing in Rio Grande City, Texas, was the fourth defendant to plead guilty to conspiracy to manufacture/distribute 1,000 or more marijuana plants.
Three co-defendants, also Mexican nationals, entered guilty pleas in United States District Court in September. Heber Franco-Lombera, 25, of Bieber, California, Jose Cardona-Ramirez, 47, and Victoria Villa-Gonzalez, 39, both of Caldwell, Idaho, all pled guilty to conspiracy to manufacture/distribute 1,000 or more marijuana plants. Cardona-Ramirez pled guilty to an additional charge of being a deported alien found in the United States.
According to the defendants’ plea agreements, the investigation began in June 2010, after Malheur County Sheriff’s deputies noticed a vehicle parked near a creek on a remote stretch of Highway 20 near Juntura, Oregon. Further investigation led officers to the discovery of a significant marijuana growing operation in the creek drainage, which was on public lands. Through a cooperative law enforcement effort led by federal agents in Idaho, and state and local officers in Oregon and California, investigators tracked the defendants’ movements from Caldwell, Idaho, to Bieber, California. In August 2010, law enforcement officers found approximately 43 pounds of processed and unprocessed marijuana, along with firearms, at a residence in Bieber. The investigation also revealed that defendants were in charge of and/or supplying food and other materials to growers in various remote stream-fed locations on public lands. The four defendants were indicted on September 14, 2010, by a federal grand jury in Idaho for manufacturing/distributing in excess of 1,000 pants of marijuana. Prior to these events, one of the defendants, Cardona-Ramirez, had re-entered the United States after being deported; he was charged with, and pled guilty to, another count in the indictment.
The charge of conspiracy to manufacture/distribute more than 1,000 marijuana plants carries a maximum punishment of up to 10 years in prison, a fine up to $1 million, and up to five years of supervised release. The charge of being a deported alien found in the United States is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, a maximum fine of $250,000, and up to three years of supervised release.
Sentencing for Jose Cardona-Ramirez is set for November 28; for Heber Franco-Lombera, November 29; for Victoria Villa-Gonzalez, November 30; and for Francisco Cardona-Rodriguez, December 15, before Chief U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill in Boise, Idaho.
This case was the result of a joint investigation of the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), led by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Substantial cooperation was also lent by Malheur County (Oregon) Sheriff’s Office, Harney County (Oregon) Sheriff’s Office, and Lassen County, Modoc County, and Shasta County (California) Sheriffs’ Offices.
The OCDETF program is a federal multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional task force that supplies supplemental federal funding to federal and state agencies involved in the identification, investigation, and prosecution of major drug trafficking organizations.