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Press Release

Merced County Resident Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Grow Marijuana in Sequoia National Forest in Kern County

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

FRESNO, Calif. —Jose Manuel Sanchez-Zapien (Sanchez), 38, a citizen of Mexico and resident of Dos Palos, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to manufacture marijuana and manufacturing marijuana in the Sequoia National Forest, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

According to court documents, on June 13, 2017, Sanchez was found at a drop point in the Slick Rock Creek drainage delivering supplies to growers at a marijuana cultivation site in Alder Creek in the Sequoia National Forest. The drop point has been used numerous times in the past as a supply drop point for marijuana growers to access marijuana grow sites in the Slick Rock Creek drainage. Law enforcement officers found over 20,952 marijuana plants at the Alder Creek site. According to the plea agreement, approximately three acres were almost completely stripped of vegetation and the ground was terraced to accommodate the marijuana plants. Large amounts of ammonium nitrate and other fertilizers were found at the site. Insecticide containers and other trash were scattered throughout the site.

Sanchez is scheduled for sentencing on February 5, 2018, by U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd. Sanchez faces a minimum statutory penalty of 10 years and up to life in prison and a $10 million fine. In pleading guilty, Sanchez also agreed to pay restitution to the U.S. Forest Service for damage to public land and natural resources caused by the cultivation operation. 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.

A superseding indictment filed in this case alleges that co-defendant Maximiliano Farias-Martinez (Farias), 48, also a citizen of Mexico and resident of Stevinson, California, supervised Sanchez and others associated with the grow site. Farias’ next court appearance is on November 27. He has entered a plea of not guilty to the charges. The charges, as to Farias, are only allegations, and he is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service with assistance from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Social Security Administration, Office of the Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar is prosecuting the case.

Updated November 15, 2017

Drug Trafficking
Press Release Number: 1:17-cr-159 DAD