Federal Court Marijuana Prosecution Update
FRESNO, Calif. — One defendant was sentenced and one pleaded guilty today in two separate cases involving marijuana cultivation operations in Fresno and Kern Counties, according to U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner.
1,429 Marijuana Plants Seized from Squaw Valley Grow (1:12-cr-352 AWI)
United States District Judge Anthony W. Ishii sentenced Bounhome Singharath, 63, of Las Vegas, to two years in prison. On March 10, 2014, Singharath pleaded guilty and acknowledged that law enforcement officers had found 1,429 marijuana plants at a grow site on Ripple Lane in Squaw Valley in eastern Fresno County. Singharath was leaving the grow site in knee-high rubber boots and camouflage pants when he encountered the officers. Singharath said he is a resident of Las Vegas and had been living at the grow site for approximately two months for the purpose of growing marijuana. This case was the product of an investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Fresno County Sheriff’s Office.
9,746 Marijuana Plants, 2 Firearms, Illegal Pesticides Seized in Sequoia National Forest Grow (1:12-cr-221 LJO)
Marcelina Botello Charles, 46, of Murrieta, Calif. pleaded guilty to conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute 9,749 marijuana plants at a grow site in the Lilly Canyon area of the Sequoia National Forest. She also pleaded guilty to distributing illegal pesticides, in violation of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and agreed to make restitution to the U.S. Forest Service for damage caused by the marijuana cultivation operation.
According to court documents, the public land sustained extensive damage as a result of the marijuana cultivation activities there. Native oak trees and other vegetation were killed or cut down to make room for the marijuana plants. The soil was tilled, and fertilizers, pesticides, and rodenticides were spread throughout the site. Cans of a common Mexican rat poison, Fosfuro de Zinc and “Ratone: fosfuro de zinc,” and a Mexican insecticide, “QúFuran,” were found at both the cultivation site and the residence where Charles temporarily resided in Bakersfield, after she was found delivering supplies to the marijuana cultivation operation. In addition to the pesticides, two handguns and numerous items relating to marijuana cultivation were seized.
Botello Charles is scheduled for sentencing on August 11, 2014, by United States District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill. The drug conspiracy carries a maximum prison term of 20 years in prison and a $4 million fine. The FIFRA violation carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a maximum fine of $25,000. 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, DEA, 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 is prosecuting both cases.