United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner
Eastern District of California
Convictions in Multi-County Marijuana Cases
|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE||
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
FRESNO, Calif. — Marijuana growers in Kings and Fresno County entered guilty pleas and one grower in Tulare County was sentenced on Monday in federal court, U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
The guilty pleas stem from Operation Mercury, an initiative implemented this year to target large-scale rural marijuana growers in six counties in the Central Valley of California.
Kings County Guilty Plea (1:12-cr-282 AWI)
Gonzalo Gutierrez-Lopez, 40, of Jalisco, Mexico, pleaded guilty to conspiring to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute marijuana. According to court documents, the U.S. Attorney’s Office sent two cease and desist notices to the corporate landowner of property in Kettleman City advising that marijuana was growing there. However, notwithstanding the notices, law enforcement officers found that marijuana was still being grown at the Kettleman City property and obtained a federal warrant to search the property. During the execution of the warrant, officers seized 394 marijuana plants and a handgun and arrested Gutierrez-Lopez, who told the officers that he had been working at the grow site for about two weeks and was going to get paid for his work. However, he did not know how much he was to be paid or by whom. While purportedly medical marijuana recommendations were posted at the grow site, there were no recommendations for Gutierrez-Lopez. His sentencing is scheduled for February 19, 2013, before Senior U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii. He faces a prison term of five to 40 years and a $5 million fine. The case against Gutierrez-Lopez is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the Kings County Sheriff’s Office.
Fresno County Guilty Plea (1:12-cr-253 AWI)
Nestor Barbarito-Martinez, 42, of Guerrero, Mexico, pleaded guilty to being an illegal alien in possession of a fully loaded .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun. According to court documents, Barbarito was found last July by a Fresno County Sheriff’s deputy walking on East Trimmer Springs Road in the Pine Flat area of Fresno County. Barbarito, who had an outstanding warrant from Tulare County for possession of a controlled substance, was found in an area of several marijuana cultivation sites. Illegal aliens are prohibited from possessing firearms. Barbarito is scheduled for sentencing before Senior U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii on February 19, 2013. He faces a maximum prison term of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The case was investigated by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office.
The actual sentences for Gutierrez-Lopez and Barbarito-Martinez, however, 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.
Tulare County Sentencing (1:11cr358 AWI)
Gauvencio Madrigal-Chavez, 61, of Jalisco, Mexico, was sentenced to three years and 10 months in prison for conspiring with eight others to grow marijuana in the Sentinel Peak area of the Sequoia National Forest where law enforcement agents found more than 16,205 marijuana plants, more than 850 pounds of processed marijuana, and three firearms, including an assault rifle. Madrigal-Chavez was found in the grow site and was apprehended there after he tried to flee. Native vegetation was cut to make room for the marijuana plants. Trash and fertilizer containers were scattered throughout the site, including in a flowing stream. Madrigal was also ordered to pay $3,686 to the U.S. Forest Service for the cost of cleaning up the land and natural resources damaged by the illicit cultivation operation. The case was investigated by the U.S. Forest Service and Tulare County Sheriff’s Office.
All three men are subject to deportation upon completion of their prison terms. Assistant United States Attorney Karen Escobar is prosecuting the cases.