United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner
Eastern District of California
Environmental Charges Filed in Marijuana Cultivation Cases
|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE||
Thursday, September 27, 2012
FRESNO, Calif. — A federal grand jury returned superseding indictments in two drug cases today charging alleged marijuana cultivators with bringing illegal insecticides and rat poisons to marijuana cultivation operations in Sequoia National Forest, U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
Fosfuro de Zinc and Ratone are common rat poisons found in marijuana grow sites. The active ingredient, zinc phosphide, is highly toxic to humans. QúFuran is also a highly toxic insecticide. Its active ingredient is carbofuran; a quarter teaspoon of it can be fatal to humans. Fosfuro de Zinc and Ratone are manufactured in India and China and distributed by a Mexican company, and QúFuran is manufactured and distributed by a Mexican company. All are illegal for use, sale, and distribution in the United States.
“The new charges underscore the dangers to the environment posed by the large-scale cultivation of marijuana on public lands in California,” said U.S. Attorney Wagner. “These illegal chemicals are poisoning public lands, killing wildlife, and endangering people who come in contact with them.”
“With increasing regularity, dangerous, unregistered pesticides are being encountered by our law enforcement partners who investigate illegal marijuana grows,” said Jay M. Green, Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in California. “Through their indiscriminate application, these unregistered pesticides pollute our lands and waters, create a significant risk to human health, and present a mounting cleanup expense for taxpayers. Today’s charges demonstrate the government's commitment to prosecuting individuals who traffic unregistered pesticides onto our public lands.”
Greenhorn Creek Case (Docket #1:12-cr-184 AWI-DLB)
Hernan Cortez-Villaseñor, 38; David Arreola, 27; Homero Pacheco-Rivera, 20; Alfonso Cornejo, 30; and Jose Luis Garcia-Villa, 20; all of Michoacán, Mexico, were previously charged with drug crimes relating to the cultivation of approximately 8,876 marijuana plants in the Greenhorn Creek area of the Sequoia National Forest. The new indictment now charges Cortez-Villaseñor with the unlawful distribution of Fosfuro de Zinc, in violation of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).
According to court documents, 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 8,876 marijuana plants. The soil was tilled, and fertilizers and pesticides, including Fosfuro de Zinc, were spread throughout the site. A case of Fosfuro de Zinc was also found at Cortez-Villaseñor’s residence in Arvin, Calif. after he was found delivering supplies to the cultivation operation.
Lilly Canyon Creek Case (Docket # 1:12-cr-221 LJO-SKO)
In the second case, Marcelina Botello Charles, 44, of Murrieta, Calif., and Julio Cesar Villanueva-Cornejo, 32, of Michoacán, Mexico, were both previously charged with drug crimes and now face additional environmental violations. Both were charged with distributing Fosfuro de Zinc and QúFuran, in violation of FIFRA.
According to court documents, the Lilly Canyon area of the Sequoia National Forest also sustained extensive damage as a result of the marijuana cultivation activities there. Native oak trees and other vegetation were killed or cut down to make room for the 9,746 marijuana plants planted there. The soil was tilled, and fertilizers, pesticides, and rodenticides were spread throughout the site. Cans of Fosfuro de Zinc, “Ratone: fosfuro de zinc,” and QúFuran were found at both the cultivation site and the residence where Charles and Villanueva-Cornejo lived in Bakersfield after they were found delivering supplies to the marijuana cultivation operation.
A FIFRA violation carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a maximum fine of $25,000. If found guilty of the drug crimes, the defendants face a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison and a $10 million fine. 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 in both cases are scheduled for arraignment on the superseding indictment on October 1, 2012. 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. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division (EPA-CID), 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.