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Press Release

Man Pleads Guilty To Marijuana Cultivation Operation On Federal Land

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

FRESNO, Calif. — Carlos Piedra-Murillo (“Piedra”), 30, a native and citizen of Mexico, entered a guilty plea today to conspiring to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute marijuana in connection with a large-scale cultivation operation located in the Domeland Wilderness area in Tulare County in the Sequoia National Forest, United States Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced. In pleading guilty, Piedra also agreed to make restitution to the U.S. Forest Service for the damage to public land and natural resources, including a prehistoric Tubatulabal Native American archaeological site, caused by his cultivation activities.


According to court documents, Piedra conspired with Juan Carlos Lopez, 32, of Lake Elsinore, California, Rafael Torres-Armenta (“Torres”), 30, and Javier Garcia-Castaneda (“Garcia”), 38, all citizens of Mexico, to cultivate marijuana in the Domeland Wilderness. The Domeland Wilderness is a federally-designated wilderness area about 55 miles northeast of Bakersfield and is known for its many granite domes and unique geologic formations. Law enforcement officers located over 8,000 marijuana plants at that location and seized fifteen pounds of processed marijuana, a .22 caliber rifle, a pellet rifle, and numerous rounds of .22 caliber ammunition.


The marijuana cultivation operation caused extensive environmental damage. It covered about 10 acres and was within the burned area of the 2000 Manter Fire. Some of the new vegetation and trees that sprouted after the fire had been cut and trimmed to make room for the marijuana plants. Water was diverted from a tributary stream of Trout Creek that supports trout. Fertilizer and pesticides, including illegal zinc phosphide, a highly toxic rodenticide from Mexico, were found at the site. Large piles of trash were found near the campsite. The northernmost area of the operation caused extensive damage to a large prehistoric Tubatulabal archaeological site. Holes were dug in the middle of the archaeological site and artifacts were found scattered on the surface among the marijuana plants.


This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Assistant United States Attorney Karen Escobar is prosecuting the case.


Piedra is scheduled for sentencing on June 5, 2017 in federal court in Fresno. Piedra faces faces a maximum statutory penalty of twenty years in prison and a $1,000,000 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 as to the co-defendants are only allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.




Updated March 13, 2017

Press Release Number: 1:16-CR-00145-LJO-SKO