Four Indicted for Marijuana Cultivation Operations in Sequoia National Forest
FRESNO, Calif. — A federal grand jury returned a four-count indictment on Thursday against four individuals for their involvement in large-scale marijuana cultivation operations on National Forest land, Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.
The indictment charges the following individuals with conspiring to cultivate marijuana at two sites in Kern County in the Sequoia National Forest: Sair Eduardo Maldonado-Soto, 21, Coral Herrera, 19, both of Perris; Abel Toledo-Villa, 34, of Michoacán, Mexico; and Alfredo Cardenas-Suastegui, 55, of Mexico, residing in Parlier. The defendants were also charged with damaging public land and natural resources as a result of the marijuana cultivation activities.
According to court documents, between March 1, 2016, and July 8, 2016, the defendants were involved with marijuana grow sites in the Lucas Creek drainage and an area known as the Box 6 site. The investigation revealed Maldonado-Soto and Herrera were supplying material, equipment, and personnel to the grow sites, which consisted of over 10,000 marijuana plants, and that they were also responsible for transporting Toledo-Villa and Cardenas-Suastegui away from the Box 6 grow site after it was raided. The marijuana cultivation operations caused extensive damage to the land and natural resources. Harmful pesticides and large amounts of trash were found at both sites. Native trees and vegetation were also removed to make room for the marijuana plants.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Southern Tri-County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) task force, California Department of Justice’s Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Kern County Sheriff’s Office, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, Fontana Police Department, and Victorville Police Department. Assistant United States Attorney Karen Escobar is prosecuting the case.
The defendants are scheduled for arraignment on the indictment on July 25 in federal court in Fresno. If convicted of counts one and two, Maldonado-Soto, Toledo-Villa, and Cardenas-Suastegui face a mandatory minimum statutory penalty of five years in prison, a maximum of 40 years in prison, and a $5 million fine. Herrera faces a maximum prison term of 20 years and a $1 million fine. If convicted of the environmental crime, the defendants face a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Any sentence, however, would 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. The charges are only allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.