Fourth Man Enters Guilty Plea Relating To Large Sequoia National Forest Marijuana Grow
FRESNO, Calif. — David Arreola Villareal, 29, of Michoacàn, Mexico, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana grown on public land and possessing a firearm in furtherance of the conspiracy, U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
According to the plea agreement, Arreola and co-defendants Hernan Cortez‑Villaseñor, 40, Homero Pacheco-Rivera, 22, Alfonso Cornejo, 32, and Jose Luis García-Villa, 22, also of Michoacàn, Mexico, conspired to grow approximately 8,876 marijuana plants in the Greenhorn Creek area of the Sequoia National Forest in Kern County. Arreola possessed a 9 millimeter semi-automatic handgun when he was arrested at the grow site.
In pleading guilty, Arreola also agreed to compensate the U.S. Forest Service for the extensive damage to the land and natural resources caused by the cultivation. Native oak trees and other vegetation were cut down or otherwise killed to make room for the marijuana plants. The soil was tilled, and fertilizers and pesticides, including Fosfuro de Zinc, an illegal rat poison, were spread throughout the site. Fosfuro de Zinc contains zinc phosphide, a highly toxic chemical that can sicken or kill human beings. When Arreola was apprehended, he was sick and had to be air-lifted out of the grow site. According to Arreola, several other growers had previously left the site, because they were sick.
Arreola is scheduled for sentencing on March 23, 2015, before Senior U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii. He faces a maximum prison sentence of five years for the drug conspiracy and a mandatory consecutive prison term of five years for the gun charge. 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.
Cortez-Villaseñor, Cornejo, and García-Villa previously entered guilty pleas. Cortez-Villaseñor was sentenced to a 10-year prison term, while Cornejo and García-Villa were both sentenced to prison terms of three years and 10 months. Pacheco-Rivera is a fugitive.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division, and the Kern County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant United States Attorney Karen Escobar prosecuted the case.