JAN 22 (FRESNO, Calif.) — Two large-scale marijuana cultivators in Kern County entered guilty pleas and two cultivators in Kings and Fresno Counties were sentenced today in federal court, Acting Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Bruce C. Balzano and U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
Guilty Plea in Federal Wiretap Case (1:11cr93 LJO)
Diocelina Bustos Abarca, aka Josephine Bustos, aka Noemi Gaona, 40, of Bakersfield, entered a guilty plea today to conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute 49,206 marijuana plants seized from public lands on the Sierra National Forest in Fresno and Madera Counties and 8,847 marijuana plants in the Sequoia National Forest in Tulare County. The evidence was developed as a result of two federal wiretap investigations that revealed that Abarca had invested money and supplied workers for the marijuana cultivation operations.
This case is the product of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), United States Forest Service (USFS), Kern County Sheriff’s Office, the Southern Tri-County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force, Bakersfield Police Department, Kern Narcotics Enforce Task Force (KNET), Department of Agriculture, and the California Multijurisdictional Methamphetamine Enforcement Team (CAL-MMET). The OCDETF program is a federal multiagency, multijurisdictional task force that supplies supplemental federal funding to federal and state agencies involved in the identification, investigation, and prosecution of major drug trafficking organizations.
Abarca faces a mandatory minimum prison term of ten years and a maximum prison term of life, along with a fine of up to $10 million. She is scheduled for sentencing April 15, 2013, before U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill. Meanwhile, Abarca remains detained, following a judicial finding that she is a danger to the community.
Guilty Plea in Kern County Ranch Case (1:12cr299 LJO)
Salvador Gallegos Jr. 22, of Bakersfield, entered a guilty plea today to conspiring to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute 920 marijuana plants cultivated on private ranch land in Kern County last August. Law enforcement officers who executed a search warrant on the property also seized three pounds of processed marijuana and an assault rifle from the ranch. Gallegos faces a mandatory prison term of five years and a maximum prison term of 40 years, along with a fine of up to $5 million. He is scheduled for sentencing on April 15, 2013 before U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill. This case is a product of an investigation by the DEA, U.S. Forest Service, ICE-HSI, and Kern County Sheriff’s Office. The investigation was conducted in conjunction with Operation Mercury, an initiative targeting large-scale rural marijuana growers in six counties in the Central Valley of California.
The actual sentences for Gallegos and Abarca, 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.
Sentencing in Devil’s Den Case (1:12cr233 LJO)
Jonathan Anthony Meza, 21, of Kettleman City, was sentenced today to five years in federal prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, for possessing a loaded .22-caliber rifle in furtherance of a conspiracy to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute marijuana. On the Devil’s Den property Meza had purchased, 1,019 marijuana plants measuring up to eight feet tall were found. This case is the product of an Operation Mercury investigation by the DEA, ICE-HSI, and Kings County Sheriff’s Office.
Sentencing in Reedley Case (1:11cr373 AWI)
Ketkeo Vorasane, 47, of Canton, Georgia, was also sentenced to five years in prison, to be followed by five years of supervised release, for possessing a loaded 12-gauge shotgun and loaded Glock .357 handgun in furtherance of a conspiracy to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute marijuana. According to court documents, 1,163 marijuana plants and 1,723 pounds of processed marijuana were found at his residence on agricultural land in Reedley. This case was investigated by the DEA and the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office.
Assistant United States Attorney Karen Escobar is prosecuting these cases.