Bakersfield Resident Pleads Guilty To Growing Marijuana On Ecological Reserve
FRESNO, Calif. — Cruz Soria, 29, of Bakersfield, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana in the Fay Canyon area of the Canebrake Ecological Reserve, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
The Canebrake Ecological Reserve is located 10 miles east of Lake Isabella in northeastern Kern County. It was first inhabited in about 1000 B.C. by the Tubatulabel culture and is currently home to numerous rare and protected plants and animals, including the federally protected golden and bald eagles and peregrine falcon, the federally threatened California red-legged frog and Valley elderberry longhorn beetle, and the endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher.
In pleading guilty, Soria acknowledged he was responsible for cultivating 454 marijuana plants in the ecological reserve. Law enforcement officers arrested Soria at the grow site and seized the plants and about 12 pounds of processed marijuana. Among the plants, the officers also found several highly toxic chemicals, including Fosfuro de Zinc or zinc phosphide, a rat poison illegal to use in the United States without a license, and Furadan, an insecticide banned by the EPA for usage on crops consumed by humans. The defendant has agreed to pay $2,568 in restitution to cover the costs incurred by the High Sierra Trail Volunteer Crew to clean up the damage to the reserve caused by the marijuana grow.
Soria is scheduled for sentencing on February 9, 2015, before Senior U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii. Soria faces a mandatory minimum prison term of five years and a maximum prison term of 40 years, along with a fine of up to $5 million. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Kern County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant United States Attorney Karen Escobar is prosecuting the case.