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Fresno Man Sentenced for Growing Marijuana; Others Come to Fresno County for Same Purpose

JULY 29 (FRESNO, Calif.) — A Fresno man was sentenced to 12 years in prison for growing marijuana on agricultural land, and five newly charged defendants face possible long prison terms for growing marijuana in Fresno County, Acting Special Agent in Charge Bruce C. Balzano and U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

REPEAT MARIJUANA GROWER SENTENCED TO 12 YEARS IN PRISON Ong Rikki Sonephady, 41, of Fresno, was sentenced today to 12 years in prison by U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii. According to court documents, between June and September 2011, Sonephady assisted in the cultivation of approximately 2,000 marijuana plants and the production of 440 kilograms of processed marijuana in Fresno County. In 2003, Sonephady was convicted in Fresno County Superior Court of cultivating marijuana and sentenced to two years in state prison.

OUT-OF-TOWNERS CULTIVATE MARIJUANA IN SANGER: Five men were charged with cultivating marijuana on agricultural land in Sanger. One defendant is a Fresno resident, but the other four allegedly came to Fresno County recently for the purpose of growing marijuana. They were indicted on Thursday, July 25, 2013, and pleaded not guilty at their arraignment the next day. Their next court date is September 30, 2013, at 1:00 p.m. before Magistrate Judge Sheila K. Oberto.

The defendants are: Iane Lovan, 35, of San Diego; Vong Southy, 39, of Texas; Somphane Malathong, 36, of Fresno; and Khamphou Khouthong and Suphan Saisee both 42 and of Kahuku, Hawaii. Only Southy and Saisee are detained.

According to court documents, on July 16, 2013, law enforcement agents executed a federal search warrant at 556 North Zedicker Avenue, in Sanger. On the 60-acre property, they found a number of people living in makeshift shacks and more than 20,000 marijuana plants that were being grown among other crops. The officers made contact with 21 individuals at the grow site and arrested five on federal charges.

If convicted, the defendants face a maximum statutory penalty of life in prison. Any sentence, however, would 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 charges are only allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

These cases are the product of investigations by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department. Assistant United States Attorney Kevin Rooney is prosecuting the cases.


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