16 Indicted in Marijuana Eradication Effort
Operation Save Our Sierra
SEP 04 -- FRESNO, Calif. — United States Attorney Lawrence G. Brown and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent in Charge Anthony D. Williams, announced today that a federal grand jury sitting in Fresno returned two indictments in connection with Operation Save our Sierra (SOS), a multi-agency marijuana eradication effort sponsored by the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, which has resulted in the eradication of approximately 420,000 marijuana plants on public land.
The first indictment was returned against MIGUEL GOMEZ-GOMEZ, 24; JESUS GOMEZ-GONZALEZ, 43, both of Dinuba,; JESUS DURAN, aka Ramon Sanchez, 43, of Orosi; ARTURO LEMUS SALDANA, 20; ROGELIO RAMOS FRAUSTO, 19; and SALVADOR GUTIERREZ-MACHUCA, 25, all of Reedley. They were charged with conspiring to manufacture, distribute, and possess with the intent to distribute marijuana and destruction of land and resources of the Sierra National Forest. GOMEZ-GONZALEZ was also charged with avoiding examination and inspection by immigration officers.
The second indictment was returned against LUCAS ROSALES-ROSAS, 21, and RAMON MANCILLA-ACEVEDO, 32, both of Orosi, charging them with being illegal aliens in possession of a firearm, possessing marijuana with intent to distribute, and avoiding examination and inspection by immigration officers.
This case is the product of an investigation by the Central Valley Marijuana Investigation Team, which consists of agents from the California Department of Justice Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Fresno County and Tulare County Sheriffs’ Offices, with assistance from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and the Social Security Administration.
According to Assistant United States Attorney Karen A. Escobar, who is prosecuting the Operation SOS cases, the recent indictments were supported by evidence obtained from a federal wiretap investigation targeting MIGUEL GOMEZ-GOMEZ, the leader of an extensive marijuana cultivation organization. The organization was responsible for the cultivation of over 49,000 marijuana plants in the Sierra National Forest. The cultivation sites had the potential to cause extensive damage to the vegetative resources and watershed affecting the Central Valley. Since the eradication effort commenced in mid-July, eight other defendants have been charged with federal drug trafficking crimes and immigration violations.
According to Fresno County Sheriff Lieutenant Richard Ko, who is spearheading the operation, the marijuana eradicated to date is valued at over $1.6 billion.
United States Attorney Brown stated, “Unfortunately, the cultivation of marijuana on our public lands, and the hazards associated with it, have become all too commonplace. The officers and agents assigned to Operation SOS are to be commended for significantly disrupting extensive marijuana cultivation operations in the Sierra National Forest.”
If convicted of the drug conspiracy charge, GOMEZ-GONZALEZ, SALDANA, and FRAUSTO face a minimum of 10 years in prison, a maximum term of life in prison, and a fine of $4,000,000. Based on prior felony drug trafficking crimes, GOMEZ-GOMEZ, DURAN, and GUTIERREZ-MACHUCA face a minimum of 20 years in prison, and a fine of $8,000,000. The destruction charge carries a maximum prison term of 10 years, a fine of $250,000, and restitution to the U.S. Forest Service for damages to the resources and land. If convicted of the firearm charge, ROSALES-ROSAS and MANCILLA-ACEVEDO face a maximum prison term of 10 years and fine of $250,000. If convicted of the drug charge, they face a maximum prison term of five years and fine of $250,000. The immigration charge carries a maximum penalty of six months and a fine of $5,000. The actual sentences, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables and any applicable statutory sentencing factors.
The GOMEZ-GOMEZ defendants, who have been detained pretrial, are scheduled to appear on September 3, 2009, for arraignment.
The charges are only allegations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
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