Mexican National Admits Growing Marijuana On Public Lands
BOISE — Gilberto Duran-Contreras, 51, a Mexican national, pleaded guilty yesterday in federal court to unlawfully manufacturing more than 1,000 marijuana plants, and damage to government land, U.S. Attorney Wendy J. Olson announced. The defendant appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy W. Dale at the federal courthouse in Boise.
According to the plea agreement, on September 15, 2013, law enforcement officers arrested Duran-Contreras on Hwy 21 near Lowman, a few miles from an outdoor marijuana growing operation on Little Beaver Creek in the Boise National Forest. A few days earlier, his co-defendants Marcos Solano-Farias, Jose Misael Ayala-Talavera, and Carlos Cerda-Carpio, were arrested in a related outdoor marijuana growing operation with 1,411 live plants on Rabbit Creek. The three co-defendants have already pleaded guilty. Duran-Contreras admitted he had worked in the growing operation on Little Beaver Creek where law enforcement officers had removed 5,463 marijuana plants. According to the plea agreements, investigators found and seized two semi-automatic handguns, and an AK-47 type rifle at the Rabbit Creek camp. Firearms had also been present at the Little Beaver Creek camp. At both locations, investigators found several hundred marijuana plants that had already been harvested from the 2013 growing operation. Law enforcement officers have located and eradicated all live marijuana plants from these growing operations.
Co-defendant Mariah Villasenor-Rodriguez recently pleaded guilty to possession of more than 100 kilos of processed marijuana at her premises in Caldwell. She is the wife of lead co-defendant, Juan Pablo Villasenor-Villa, who is set for trial on July 21, 2014.
All defendants were indicted by a federal grand jury on October 9, 2013, on charges of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana, possession of firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking, and injury to federal public lands. Duran-Contreras will be sentenced on July 8, 2014. The four co-defendants who have previously pleaded guilty are set for sentencing on May 14-15, 2014.
The charge of manufacturing more than 1,000 marijuana plants carries a penalty of not less than ten years and up to life in prison, a maximum fine of $10 million, and five years of supervised release. The charge of injury to government property is punishable by up to ten years in prison, a maximum fine of $250,000, and up to three years of supervised release. Possession of more than 100 kg is punishable by not less than five years and up to 25 years in prison, a maximum fine of $5 million and up to three years of supervised release.
“Vigorous prosecution of those who grow illegal drugs on federal land is a high priority of this office,” said Olson. “Those who operate marijuana grows not only traffic in illegal drugs, but they also damage wildlife and the environment and, through their possession and possible use of firearms, pose a significant danger to all Idahoans who seek to use our national forests for hiking, hunting and recreation purposes.” Olson noted that Duran-Contreras is the tenth defendant in 2014 to plead guilty or be sentenced in Idaho on federal drug trafficking charges that also involved the unlawful use, possession or sale of firearms. “Drugs and guns are a dangerous and often violent combination,” Olson said. “Today’s guilty pleas demonstrate that federal gun laws are carefully targeted at those who use or possess firearms for unlawful purposes.”
The case is the result of a joint investigation result of the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), which included the cooperative law enforcement efforts of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Land Management, and United States Forest Service, with assistance from the Ada County Sheriff’s Office, Boise County Sheriff’s Office, Boise Police Department, City County Narcotics Unit (Canyon County Sheriff’s Office and Caldwell Police Department), the Idaho National Guard, Meridian Police Department, Nampa Police Department, Spokane Police Department, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and Washington State Police.
The OCDETF program is a federal, multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional task force that supplies supplemental federal funding to federal and state agencies involved in the identification, investigation, and prosecution of major drug trafficking organizations.