United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner
Eastern District of California
Five Indicted For Growing Marijuana In Sequoia National Forest
|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE||
Thursday, June 14, 2012
FRESNO, Calif. — Five defendants were indicted today for conspiring to grow, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute marijuana and for damaging public lands and natural resources, U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
“This indictment represents the first federal prosecution stemming from Operation Mercury, a comprehensive multi-agency marijuana enforcement effort spanning six counties in the Central Valley and intended to stem the proliferation of industrial-sized marijuana grows on our public and agricultural lands,” said U.S. Attorney Wagner.
According to court documents, Hernan Cortez Villaseñor, 38; David Arreola, 27; Homero Pacheco Rivera, 20; Alfonso Cornejo, 29; and Jose Luis Garcia Villa, 20; all of Michoacán, Mexico, were involved in the cultivation of approximately 8,876 marijuana plants in the Greenhorn Creek area of the Sequoia National Forest. In addition, Cortez Villaseñor is charged with employing a minor in the operation. The Kern County District Attorney’s Office is pursuing juvenile proceedings against the minor.
The Greenhorn Creek site sustained extensive damage as a result of the cultivation activities. Native oak trees and other vegetation were cut down or otherwise killed to make room for the marijuana plants. The soil was tilled, and fertilizers and pesticides were spread throughout the site, including pesticides from Mexico that are banned in the United States. Trash and water lines were found throughout the site, all of which have to be removed by helicopter.
If convicted of the drug charges, the defendants face a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison and a $10 million fine. They face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and $250,000 fine for the environmental crime. The actual sentences, if convicted, 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.
Each of the defendants has been detained as a flight risk and danger to the community. They are scheduled for arraignment and plea on the indictment on June 18, 2012 in federal court in Fresno. The charges are only allegations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the Kern County Sheriff’s Department. Assistant United States Attorney Karen Escobar is prosecuting the case.