News and Press Releases

United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner
Eastern District of California

Mexican National Sentenced for Firearms and Illegal Pesticides in Connection with Forest Marijuana Cultivation Operation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, February 24, 2014
 

www.usdoj.gov/usao/cae

usacae.edcapress@usdoj.gov

 

Docket #: 1:12-cr-221 LJO

 

 

FRESNO, Calif. — Julio Cesar Villanueva Cornejo, 33, of Michoacán, Mexico was sentenced today to six years in prison for possessing a firearm and distributing illegal rat poison and insecticides in connection with a large marijuana cultivation operation in the Lilly Canyon area of the Sequoia National Forest, U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced. Villanueva was also ordered to pay $4,294 in restitution to the U.S. Forest Service for the damage to public land and natural resources caused by the cultivation operation. He is subject to deportation after he serves his prison sentence.

“Increasingly, dangerous, unregistered pesticides are being encountered by law enforcement officers who investigate illegal marijuana grows,” said Jay M. Green, 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 safety risk to humans and animals, and present a mounting cleanup expense for taxpayers. Today’s sentence demonstrates the government’s commitment to hold accountable those individuals who traffic unregistered pesticides onto our public lands.”

Villanueva’s sentence follows his guilty plea last December. According to court documents, Villanueva delivered chemicals and supplies to a marijuana cultivation operation in the Lilly Canyon area of the Sequoia National Forest. The cultivation operation caused extensive environmental damage. 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, and illegal pesticides, and rodenticides containing zinc phosphide and carbofuran were spread throughout the site. In addition to the illegal pesticides, two firearms, marijuana seeds, and other items associated with the cultivation operation were found.

The EPA has designated zinc phosphide as a restricted use pesticide that may only be purchased and used by, or under the supervision of, a certified applicator. In 2011, the EPA announced that it would ban zinc phosphide for residential sale due to its acute toxicity. Zinc phosphide is highly toxic to humans and wildlife. A single swallow can be fatal to a small child. Carbofuran is highly toxic to vertebrates and particularly toxic to birds. In granular form, a single grain will kill a bird; for humans, one quarter of a teaspoon is a sufficient dose to be fatal. Effective December 31, 2009, EPA cancelled all food tolerances for carbofuran and determined carbofuran is no longer eligible for re-registration.

This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division (EPA-CID), and the Kern County Sheriff’s Department. Assistant United States Attorney Karen Escobar handled the prosecution.

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