United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner
Eastern District of California
Kern, Tulare, Fresno And Stanislaus Counties Marijuana Prosection Update
|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE||
Monday July 8, 2013
FRESNO, Calif. — Six marijuana cultivators in four counties were sentenced today to federal prison for their involvement in separate large-scale marijuana cultivation operations throughout the Central Valley, according to U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner.
16,205 Marijuana Plants Seized in Sequoia National Forest (Case No. 1:11CR358 AWI)
Victor Alfonso Madrigal Cardenas, 26, of Delano, Calif., was sentenced to eight years and one month in prison for one count of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and one count of cultivating 16,205 marijuana plants and 1,100 pounds of processed marijuana in the Sentinel Peak area of the Sequoia National Forest in Tulare County. His sentence follows his guilty plea earlier this year. In pleading guilty plea, Madrigal acknowledged that he possessed a loaded .38 caliber revolver in furtherance of the cultivation of the marijuana plants and had already processed hundreds of pounds of the marijuana. Madrigal was also ordered to make restitution to the U.S. Forest Service in the amount of $3,686.54 to cover the costs of cleaning up the cultivation site. According to court documents, the marijuana cultivation operation caused extensive damage to the land and natural resources. Native vegetation was cut to make room for the marijuana plants and trash and fertilizer containers were scattered throughout the site, including in a flowing stream. Madrigal is subject to deportation to Mexico after he serves his prison term.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Forest Service, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Bureau of Land Management, Southern Tri-County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), California Department of Justice Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), California Department of Fish and Game, and Tulare County Sheriff’s Office.
1,163 Marijuana Plants Seized in Reedley Farm Case (Case No. 1:11CR373 AWI)
Chanh Vorasane, 47, of Laos, was sentenced to two years in prison for using drug-involved premises following his guilty plea in April. In pleading guilty, Vorasane acknowledged that he was involved in the cultivation and processing of approximately 1,163 marijuana plants and more than 1,723 pounds of processed marijuana grown on a vegetable farm in Reedley. Law enforcement agents found Vorasane with his cousins, Ketkeo Vorasane, 47, of Canton, Georgia, during the execution of a federal search warrant at the property. According to court records, Chanh Vorasane failed to obey law enforcement commands to halt and ran into the residence, where agents found the cousin, processed marijuana, and two firearms. Ketkeo Vorasane previously entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to five years in prison for possessing a loaded shotgun and a Glock .357 handgun in furtherance of drug trafficking crimes.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Fresno County Sheriff’s Office.
8,876 Marijuana Plants Seized in Sequoia National Forest Case (Case No. 1:12CR184 AWI)
Alfonso Cornejo, aka Jose Alfonso Cornejo Carranza, aka Pedro Mendez Placensia, 30, of Michoacán, Mexico, was sentenced to three years and ten months in prison following his guilty plea earlier this year to conspiring to cultivate 8,876 marijuana plants near the Greenhorn Creek Trail in the Sequoia National Forest in Kern County. Cornejo was also ordered to make restitution in the amount of $1,698.34 to the U.S. Forest Service for damage sustained to public land and natural resources as a result of the cultivation operation. According to court documents, native oak trees and other vegetation were cut down or otherwise killed to make room for the marijuana planted there. The soil was tilled, and fertilizers and pesticides, including a highly toxic and illegal rat poison from Mexico called Fosfuro de Zinc or zinc phosphide, were spread throughout the site. Cornejo is subject to deportation after he serves his sentence.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Forest Service, HSI, DEA, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division (EPA-CID), and the Kern County Sheriff’s Department.
4,011 Marijuana Plants Seized in Alpaugh Ag Grow (Case No. 1:12CR234 LJO)
Antonio Becerra Sanchez, aka Antonio Iniguez Becerra, 49, of Nayarit, Mexico, was sentenced to one year in prison following his guilty plea earlier this year to conspiring to cultivate 393 marijuana plants in an enclosed plot on a twenty-acre agricultural parcel containing a total of 4,011 marijuana plants in fourteen separate enclosed plots. In pleading guilty, Becerra acknowledged that he was growing marijuana under the guise of it being for medical use under California law. However, he indicated that he intended to profit from the enterprise and knew that what he was doing was illegal. Federal law does not recognize any legitimate use of marijuana, a Schedule I controlled substance. Upon completion of his prison term, Becerra is subject to deportation to Mexico.
The case was investigated by the DEA, HSI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), and the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office.
920 Marijuana Plants Seized in Kern County Ranch Case (Case No. 1:12CR299 LJO)
Christopher Norberto Gallegos, 20, of Temecula, Calif., was sentenced to one year and six months in prison following his guilty plea earlier this year to conspiring to cultivate 920 marijuana plants on private ranch land in Kern County. Law enforcement officers also seized 3 pounds of processed marijuana and an assault weapon from the grow site.
The case was investigated by the DEA, U.S. Forest Service, HSI, and Kern County Sheriff’s Office.
907 Marijuana Plants Seized in Newman River Grow (Case No. 1:12CR342 AWI)
Phanetavanh Southammavong,44,of Laos, was sentenced to two years in prison following his guilty plea earlier this year to conspiring to cultivate 907 marijuana plants near the San Joaquin River in Newman, California. In pleading guilty, Southammavong acknowledged that medical marijuana recommendations, including some from Dr. Terrill Brown, were posted in an attempt to disguise the true nature of the for-profit operation. Last month, a federal grand jury in Fresno returned an indictment charging Brown with 27 counts of drug trafficking and financial crimes. The charges are only allegations and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Southammavong indicated that he expected to sell the marijuana for $800 per pound or, conservatively, nearly $16,000.
This case was investigated by the DEA and Stanislaus Drug Enforcement Agency, a multi-agency drug task force in Modesto.
The cases against Cornejo, Becerra, and Gallegos were also investigated under the umbrella of Operation Mercury, an intensive marijuana eradication and enforcement effort initiated in 2012 by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in six counties to address the increasing problem of the cultivation of marijuana on agricultural land. To date, Operation Mercury has resulted in the seizure of nearly half a million marijuana plants and the prosecution of 84 defendants in federal court in Fresno.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar prosecuted the above criminal cases.