FRESNO, Calif. — Mauricio Vaca-Bucio (Vaca), 31, of Michoacán, Mexico, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute marijuana, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott announced.
According to court documents, Vaca and his co-defendants Felipe Angeles Valdez‑Colima, 35, and Rodolfo Torres-Galvan, 29, also of Mexico, were apprehended after a two-month investigation in the Kiavah Wilderness, a federally designated wilderness area in the Sequoia National Forest. Law enforcement officers saw Torres and Valdez emerge from the forest and enter a Camaro driven by Vaca. They were subsequently stopped in Weldon. Officers found freshly harvested marijuana in the Camaro and located over 1,800 marijuana plants at the grow site on the trail that led to the drop point. The officers also found deadly illegal pesticides, including carbofuran and zinc phosphide, in both the vehicle and at the grow site. In pleading guilty, Vaca agreed to pay over $7,000 in restitution to the U.S. Forest Service for the damage he caused to the National Forest.
The United States Congress designated the Kiavah Wilderness in 1994, and it is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service. This wilderness area is part of the National Cooperative Land and Wildlife Management Area and the Bureau of Land Management’s Jawbone-Butterbredt Area of Critical Environmental Concern.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service with assistance from Enforcement and Removal Operations of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California National Guard, Kern County Sheriff’s Office, and Kern County Probation Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar is prosecuting the case.
Vaca is scheduled for sentencing on July 29. He faces a minimum statutory penalty of 10 years in prison and a maximum statutory penalty of life in prison, along with a $10 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. Valdez and Torres previously entered guilty pleas and are set for sentencing on May 20 and April 29, respectively.