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Tulare County Man Sentenced to 17.5 Years in Prison for Marijuana Cultivation Crimes

APR 14 (FRESNO, Calif.) — U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill sentenced Saul Antonio Morales, 49, of Alpaugh, today to 17 and a half years in prison for drug offenses relating to his involvement in a large marijuana cultivation operation that he maintained on his property.

On October 31, 2013, a federal jury found Morales guilty of conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana, manufacturing marijuana, possessing marijuana with intent to distribute, and maintaining drug-involved premises.

The government's evidence at trial established that Morales, who was unemployed, was the owner of two 20-acre parcels and one residential property in the rural community of Alpaugh. In May 2012, during the execution of a search warrant at one of the parcels where Morales resided, members of the Sheriff's Tactical Enforcement Personnel (STEP) unit of the Tulare County Sheriff's Office located 4,011 marijuana plants, a processing room, and three firearms. The officers seized another 198 marijuana plants at another parcel and identified Morales's stash house at the third property. According to court documents, Morales and his family members were involved in the distribution of marijuana to the state of Washington.

In sentencing Morales, Judge O'Neill enhanced Morales' sentence based on his leadership role and possession of firearms, noting, "guns change everything." Following the completion of his prison term, Morales will be placed on supervised release for a total term of five years, or will be subject to deportation to his native El Salvador.

Seven other people were prosecuted in this case, including Morales's wife, Juliana Garcia Torres, 55, and son, Gerardo Alonso Morales, 23. They were both sentenced to three years and one month in prison. Bonifacio Cano Gutierrez, 20, of Colima, Mexico, was sentenced on January 6, 2014, to two years and six months in prison. He is subject to deportation to Mexico upon completion of his prison sentence. The remaining six co-defendants were sentenced to between 12 to 30 months in prison.

This case was the product of an investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Tulare County Sheriff's Office. Assistant United States Attorneys Karen Escobar and Christopher Baker prosecuted the case.

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