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More Indictments in Operation Mercury Targeting Marijuana Grown on Agricultural Land
78 charged in federal court since March 2012

OCT 04 (FRESNO, Calif.) — Five men were indicted today for growing marijuana on agricultural land in Fresno County, Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Anthony D. Williams and United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced today. Say Taylor, 50, of Los Angeles; Phonepasejth Phaphilom, 26, of Fresno; Rassamee Phothidokmai, 52; Paul Nokham, aka Boun Theung Hokham, 48; Thavone Onsyphanla, 49; all of Las Vegas, are charged with conspiring to cultivate, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana plants, cultivating the plants, and possessing them with the intent to distribute.

The charges are part of Operation Mercury, an intensive eradication and enforcement effort focusing on agricultural marijuana grows in six counties of the Central Valley. The operation was carried out by the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Fish and Game, the California Department of Justice, the California Department of Fish and Game, the California National Guard, and the sheriff’s departments of Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, and Tulare Counties. Assistant United States Attorney Karen A. Escobar is prosecuting this case.

According to court documents, the men were found at a marijuana grow site on Marks Avenue in rural southwest Fresno during the execution of a federal search warrant. DEA agents and Fresno County Sheriff’s detectives eradicated 2,932 marijuana plants and seized a firearm that Taylor had in his possession. According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, at a conservative one pound per plant yield, the cultivation operation is valued at more than $2.3 million. In addition, at least one of the men acknowledged that the marijuana was destined for Las Vegas.

The defendants are scheduled to appear in federal court for arraignment on Friday, October 5, 2012. If convicted of the drug crimes, the defendants face a mandatory minimum prison term of 10 years and a maximum term of life, and a $10 million fine. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory sentencing factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables. The allegations in the indictment are only accusations and all persons are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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