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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of California

Monday, July 7, 2014

Federal Marijuana Case Update

FRESNO, Calif. — One marijuana cultivator pleaded guilty and one was sentenced today for cultivation operations in Kern and Stanislaus Counties, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

8,876 Marijuana Plants and Illegal Pesticides Seized from Sequoia National Forest
(1:12-cr-184 AWI)

Hernan Cortez Villaseñor (Cortez), 40, of Michoacàn, Mexico, pleaded guilty to conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana, and distributing unregistered pesticides, in violation of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). In pleading guilty, Cortez also agreed to pay $3,328 to the U.S. Forest Service for the damage caused by his marijuana cultivation operation in the Greenhorn Creek area of the Sequoia National Forest.

According to court documents, the Greenhorn Creek site sustained extensive damage as a result of the cultivation activities. Native oak trees and other vegetation were cut down or otherwise killed to make room for the 8,876 marijuana plants planted there. The soil was tilled, and fertilizers and pesticides, including Fosfuro de Zinc, a common Mexican rat poison containing zinc phosphide, were spread throughout the site. Law enforcement officers also found 30 containers of Fosfuro de Zinc at Cortez’s residence in Arvin, Calif. after Cortez delivered supplies to the cultivation operation.The EPA has designated zinc phosphide as a restricted use pesticide, which means that it may only be purchased and used by, or under the supervision of, a certified applicator. Zinc phosphide is banned for residential sale due to its acute toxicity. A single swallow can be fatal to a small child.

Cortez is scheduled for sentencing on September 22, 2014. He faces a mandatory minimum prison term of 10 years and a maximum prison term of life for the drug conspiracy. The pesticide charge carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a fine of $100,000. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory sentencing factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables. Upon completion of any prison term imposed, Cortez is subject to deportation to Mexico.

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 Office.

907 Marijuana Plants Seized in Newman River Case (1:12-cr-342 AWI)

Symery Saykganya, 58, of Modesto, was sentenced to two years in prison for conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana following his guilty plea earlier this year. According to his plea agreement, Saykganya was found at a marijuana grow site in a rural area along the San Joaquin River in the vicinity of Newman. Drug agents also found and eradicated 907 marijuana plants that were irrigated by water diverted from the river. Agents also found purported medical marijuana recommendations posted at the site, along with a firearm.

The case was the product of an investigation by federal agents from the DEA and Stanislaus Drug Enforcement Agency, a multi-agency drug task force in Modesto.

Assistant United States Attorney Karen Escobar handled the above prosecutions.

Updated April 8, 2015