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Press Release

Kern County Man Pleads Guilty to Marijuana Cultivation Operation in Sequoia National Forest

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of California

FRESNO, Calif. — Russell Lee Riggs, 69, of Weldon, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana grown in the Sequoia National Forest, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

According to court documents, Riggs delivered supplies and material to a marijuana cultivation site containing over 3,000 marijuana plants in the Fay Creek drainage in Kern County in the Sequoia National Forest. He also received processed marijuana from growers at the site. Springs were dammed and diverted to irrigate the marijuana plants and large amounts of trash were scattered throughout, including in a flowing stream. Law enforcement officers also seized marijuana cultivation equipment and supplies, 16 firearms and over 2,000 rounds of ammunition at the site and during follow-up searches of Riggs’ residence and that of co‑defendant Juan Penaloza-Ramirez, 46, a citizen of Mexico.

Fay Creek supports a variety of ecosystems and resources, including riparian habitat supporting trout, wildflowers and grasses, and willow, alder and cottonwood trees. Fay Creek also serves as the primary drinking water source for many wildlife in the area.

In pleading guilty, Riggs agreed to pay $1,719 to the U.S. Forest Service for the damage to public land and natural resources caused by the cultivation activities. He also agreed to the forfeiture of the seized firearms and ammunition.

Riggs is scheduled for sentencing before U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd on September 11, 2017. Penaloza-Ramirez previously pleaded guilty and is scheduled for sentencing on June 19, 2017. Both men face a mandatory minimum statutory penalty of five years in prison and a maximum statutory penalty of 40 years in prison, along with a $5 million fine. 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. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Southern Tri-County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) task force, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the California Department of Justice’s Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), and the Kern County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant United States Attorney Karen Escobar is prosecuting the case.

Updated June 12, 2017

Drug Trafficking
Press Release Number: 1:15-cr-264 DAD