United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner
Eastern District of California
TWO INDICTED FOR GROWING MARIJUANA IN SEQUOIA NATIONAL FOREST
|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE||
CONTACT: Lauren Horwood
Thursday, July 19, 2012
FRESNO, Calif. — Marcelina Botello Charles, 44, of Murrieta, and Julio Cesar Villanueva-Cornejo, 32, of Michoacan, Mexico were indicted today for their involvement in a large marijuana cultivation operation in Sequoia National Forest and for damaging public lands and natural resources, U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
According to court documents, Charles and Villanueva-Cornejo were responsible for supplying materials to workers at a marijuana cultivation site in the Lilly Creek area of the Sequoia National Forest in Kern County. Law enforcement officers seized approximately 9,746 marijuana plants and over 90 pounds of processed marijuana from the site, which sustained extensive damage as a result of the cultivation activities. Trash and water lines were found throughout the site, all of which have to be removed by helicopter. 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, pesticides, and rodenticides were spread throughout the site. Cans of a common Mexican rat poison, “Ratone,” and a Mexican herbicide, “Furan,” were found at both the cultivation site and the residence where Charles and Villanueva-Cornejo lived in Bakersfield. The chemical components of Ratone and Furan are outlawed in the United States due to the significant health risk they pose to human beings. Drug agents also found two firearms at the Bakersfield residence.
If convicted of the drug charges, the defendants face a penalty of 10 years to life in prison and a $10 million fine. They face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $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.
The defendants are scheduled for arraignment on July 23, 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 part of an initiative targeting large-scale marijuana growers in six counties in the Central Valley of California done by the U.S. Forest Service, 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.
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