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Press Release

Madera County Man Pleads Guilty to Conspiring to Cultivate Marijuana in the Sierra National Forest

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


FRESNO, Calif. — Carson Shane Wilhite, 43, of Ahwahnee, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute marijuana and possessing a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

Wilhite has agreed to pay $46,680 in restitution to the U.S. Forest Service for the damage sustained to the environment as a result of his marijuana cultivation activities.

According to court documents, Wilhite was involved in a marijuana cultivation operation at his residence on private land in the Carter Creek watershed drainage network in the Sierra National Forest and on public land adjacent to the residence. During the execution of a federal search warrant in the summer of 2019, law enforcement officers located marijuana growing inside and outside of Wilhite’s residence and 2,261 marijuana plants growing on the adjacent public land. In exchange for $3,000 in cash and an additional $300 per month, Wilhite allowed other individuals to pass through his property to the public land so that they could grow marijuana there. Upon harvest, he was going to be paid in marijuana and would receive an additional $10,000. In total, officers located 2,353 marijuana plants.

While serving the warrant in Wilhite’s residence, officers found three firearms, including an AR-15 type assault rifle with no serial number and a Springfield .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol with a live round chambered. In a second residence on the property, officers located a safe, which Wilhite controlled, that contained an additional 11 guns. Wilhite advised the officers that he had been carrying the loaded semi-automatic pistol prior to the arrival of law enforcement officers and was armed when he checked on the marijuana in the forest.

This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Madera County Sheriff’s Office. Integral Ecology Research Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the research and conservation of wildlife and their ecosystems, analyzed and documented the environmental damage. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar is prosecuting the case.

Wilhite is scheduled for sentencing on January 13, 2023, before United States District Judge Jennifer L. Thurston. He faces a maximum prison term of five years in prison on the drug conspiracy and a mandatory consecutive prison term of at least five years for the firearms charge. He also faces a $250,000 fine, as to each 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.


Updated September 30, 2022