Four Mexican Nationals Plead Guilty to Conspiracy to Grow Marijuana on Public Lands
BOISE – Francisco Cardona-Rodriguez, 38, a Mexican national formerly residing in Rio Grande City, Texas, is the fourth defendant to plead guilty to conspiracy to manufacture/ distribute 1,000 or more marijuana plants, U.S. Attorney Wendy J. Olson announced. Cardona- Rodriguez appeared today before Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy W. Dale at the federal courthouse in Boise.
Three co-defendants, also Mexican nationals, entered guilty pleas in United States District Court in September. Heber Franco-Lombera, 25, of Bieber, California, Jose Cardona- Ramirez, 47, and Victoria Villa-Gonzalez, 39, both of Caldwell, Idaho, all pled guilty to conspiracy to manufacture/distribute 1,000 or more marijuana plants. Cardona-Ramirez pled guilty to an additional charge of being a deported alien found in the United States.
According to the defendants' plea agreements, the investigation began in June 2010, after Malheur County Sheriff’s deputies noticed a vehicle parked near a creek on a remote stretch of Highway 20 near Juntura, Oregon. Further investigation led officers to the discovery of a significant marijuana growing operation in the creek drainage, which is on public land Through a cooperative law enforcement effort led by federal agents in Idaho, and state and local officers in Oregon and California, investigators tracked the defendants' movements from Caldwell, Idaho, to Bieber, California. In August 2010, law enforcement officers found approximately 43 pounds of processed and unprocessed marijuana, along with firearms, at a residence in Bieber. The investigation also revealed that the defendants were in charge of and/or supplying food and other materials to growers in various remote stream-fed locations on public lands. The four defendants were indicted on September 14, 2010, by a federal grand jury in Idaho for manufacturing/ distributing in excess of 1,000 plants of marijuana. Prior to these events, one of the defendants, Cardona-Ramirez, had re-entered the United States after being deported; he was charged with, and pled guilty to, another count in the indictment.
The charge of conspiracy to manufacture/distribute more than 1,000 marijuana plants carries a maximum punishment of up to 10 years in prison, a fine up to $1 million, and up to five years supervised release. The charge of being a deported alien found in the United States is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, a maximum fine of $250,000, and up to three years supervised release.
Sentencing for Jose Cardona-Ramirez is set for November 28; for Heber Franco- Lombera, November 29; for Victoria Villa-Gonzalez, November 30, and for Francisco Cardona- Rodriguez, December 15, before Chief U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill in Boise.
The case was the result of a joint investigation of the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), led by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Substantial cooperation was also lent by Malheur County (Oregon) Sheriff’s Office, Harney County (Oregon) Sheriff’s Office, and Lassen County, Modoc County, and Shasta County (California) Sheriffs’ Offices.
“We were able to prosecute this case only because of close collaboration by federal and state law enforcement in three states,” said Olson. “The public should be aware that marijuana plots on public lands are being harvested at this time of year, the end of summer, when hunters, fishermen and campers are going up into the hills. The public's cooperation is greatly appreciated in locating illegal marijuana operations. However, outdoorsmen should exercise caution when encountering evidence of marijuana grows. They should note the location and report it to a law enforcement agency immediately. Armed marijuana growers on public lands in Idaho will be prosecuted aggressively.”
“There have been numerous close calls over the last several years with the public accidentally wandering into marijuana grow operations being protected by armed guards,” said Loren Good, Assistant Special Agent in Charge for the BLM in Idaho. “As a result, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies have worked more efficiently together and teamed up with the United States Attorney's Office to make this one of the top priorities. This case is yet another example of how we intend to make our public lands in this area an inhospitable place to grow marijuana.”
The OCDETF program is a federal multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional task force that supplies supplemental federal funding to federal and state agencies involved in the identification, investigation, and prosecution of major drug trafficking organizations.
Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) is a collaborative effort by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and communities to prevent and deter gun violence.