MARIJUANA CULTIVATORS SENTENCED TO PRISON
Spokane – James A. McDevitt, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced that Marcial Cardenas-Villanueva, age 22, Juan Vargas Piedra, age 25, and Luis Vargas-Mercado, age 19, all citizens of Mexico, have been sentenced for conspiracy to grow marijuana in the Okanogan National Forest.
Yesterday, Luis Vargas-Mercado was sentenced to 30 months in prison for conspiracy to manufacture over 1,000 marijuana plants, concurrent to his sentence for destruction of government property. In June, Marcial Cardenas-Villanueva and Juan Vargas Piedra were both sentenced to 10 years in prison for conspiracy to manufacture over 1,000 marijuana plants, concurrent to a 57 month sentence for destruction of government property. All three have been ordered to pay $13,550 in restitution, jointly and severally.
In May 2009, the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office received information that marijuana was being grown in the Okanogan National Forest. Aerial surveillance and ground surveillance confirmed a complex of gardens at a location known as Gobbler’s Knob. An early morning raid occurred on August 25, 2009. Federal and state law enforcement officers located the marijuana gardens and temporary structures in the National Forest. Five Hispanic males were observed in the gardens, but only one juvenile and these three defendants were captured. Officers seized 3,941 marijuana plants and observed that approximately half of the marijuana had already been harvested. The National Forest sustained significant degradation and damage by reason of the gardens, campsites and garbage pits. The order of restitution will reimburse the Forest Service for removing the waste and attempting to restore the environment.
All three defendants have been detained since their arrest and all three pleaded guilty to the charges earlier this year.
James A. McDevitt, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, said, “This is not just a simple marijuana case, it involves thousands of marijuana plants worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is big business. Not only do these marijuana traffickers cause significant environmental damage to our public land, they pose a significant risk to the public and recreationalists.”
The investigation was conducted by the U.S. Forest Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the North Central Washington Narcotics Task Force, the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office, the Washington State Patrol, the Twisp Police Department, the Winthrop Marshal’s Office, North Central Washington Special Response Team, the U.S. Border Patrol, the Washington National Guard, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This case was prosecuted by Tim Ohms, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington.