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Second Devil’s Den Marijuana Cultivator Pleads Guilty

DEC 10 (FRESNO, Calif.) —Ramon Manjarrez-Del Vaal, 36, of Sinaloa, Mexico, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to cultivate, distribute and possess with intent to distribute 1,019 marijuana plants grown on a five-acre parcel of land in Devil’s Den in Kings County, Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Anthony D. Williams and U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

In pleading guilty, Manjarrez acknowledged that he came to California from Mexico to work for his co-defendant, Jonathan Anthony Meza, 20, of Los Angeles, who pleaded guilty last month. Manjarrez was hired to water and care for the marijuana plants for monetary compensation. Court records indicate that the marijuana was grown under the guise of being medicinal. Federal law, however, does not recognize any medical use of marijuana, and California law prohibits the cultivation of medical marijuana for profit.

This case stemmed from Operation Mercury, an intensive marijuana eradication and enforcement effort initiated earlier this year by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in six counties to address the increasing problem of the cultivation of marijuana on agricultural land. To date, Operation Mercury has resulted in the seizure of nearly half a million marijuana plants and the prosecution of 81 defendants in federal court in Fresno. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the Kings County Sheriff’s Department investigated the case. Assistant United States Attorney Karen Escobar is prosecuting the case.

Manjarrez is scheduled for sentencing on March 4, 2013 before U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill. Manjarrez faces five years to life in prison and a fine of up to $10 million. His 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. In addition, Manjarrez is subject to deportation upon completion of his prison sentence.

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