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Case Update: Central Valley Marijuana Traffickers

MAR 31 (FRESNO, Calif.) — Marijuana cultivators from Kern, Stanislaus, and Fresno Counties entered guilty pleas today in two cases and were sentenced in another for their involvement in separate large-scale marijuana cultivation operations.

Kern County Marijuana Cultivation/Processing Operation (1:13-cr-00028 AWI)

Bernabe Hernandez, 53, of Arvin, Calif., entered a guilty plea to conspiring to cultivate, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana and agreed to forfeit the 29 acre agricultural parcel that he owned and used to grow the marijuana.  According to court documents, Hernandez is the owner and resident of property on Wheeler Ridge Road in Arvin where Kern County Sheriff deputies found and seized 1,387 pounds of processed marijuana and 338 marijuana plants during the execution of a search warrant there.  They also found scales, packaging material, and ammunition and seized $3,179 in drug proceeds from Hernandez's residence on the property.  Hernandez also agreed to forfeit the money seized from his residence.

Hernandez faces a maximum prison term of 20 years, along with a fine of up to $1 million.  He is scheduled for sentencing on June 9, 2014.  His actual sentence 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 case was investigated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Homeland Security Investigations of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Kern County Sheriff's Office.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Escobar is handling the criminal case and Assistant U.S. Attorney Heather Mardel Jones is handling the forfeiture of assets.

Modesto Man Pleads Guilty in River Marijuana Operation (1:12CR342 AWI)

Symery Saykganya, 57, of Modesto, Calif., also entered a guilty plea to conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana grown beside the San Joaquin River in the vicinity of Newman in Stanislaus County.  In pleading guilty, Saykganya acknowledged that he and four other men cultivated 907 marijuana plants.  During the execution of a search warrant at the grow site, agents also found a firearm and saw that water from the San Joaquin River had been diverted to irrigate the marijuana plants.

Saykganya faces a maximum prison term of 20 years and a fine of up to $1 million.  His actual sentence 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.  He is scheduled for sentencing on June 16, 2014.   

The case was investigated by federal agents from the DEA and Stanislaus Drug Enforcement Agency, a multi-agency drug task force in Modesto.    

Las Vegas Man Sentenced for Fresno County Ag Grow (1:12CR2341 LJO)

Paul Nokham, also known as Bountheung Nokham, 49, of Las Vegas, Nevada, was sentenced to two years for conspiring to cultivate, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana grown on an agricultural parcel on Marks Avenue in rural southwest Fresno.  During the execution of a federal search warrant there, narcotics agents found Nokham with four other men, 2,932 marijuana plants, and a firearm.  The men claimed the plants were being grown for medical reasons.  While federal law does not recognize the medical use of marijuana, several of the men acknowledged that the operation was for profit, in violation of California law.  In pleading guilty, Nokham acknowledged that he was in Fresno to work and was planning to take processed marijuana back to Las Vegas.  Nevada does not recognize the medical use of marijuana.   

The case against Nokham was investigated by the DEA and Fresno County Sheriff's Office.

Assistant United States Attorney Karen A. Escobar prosecuted the cases against Saykganya and Nokham.

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