Mexican National Sentenced for Destructive Marijuana Cultivation Operation in Sequoia National Forest in Kern County
FRESNO, Calif. — Alfredo Cardenas-Suastegui (Cardenas), 57, of Michoacán, Mexico, was sentenced today to five years in prison for conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana in the Sequoia National Forest, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott announced. U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill also ordered Cardenas to pay $5,233 in restitution to the U.S. Forest Service for the damage to public land and natural resources.
Cardenas pleaded guilty on October 2, 2017. According to the plea agreement, for four months, Cardenas tended to 3,850 marijuana plants at an area known as the “Box 6” grow site in the Sequoia National Forest in Kern County. Co‑defendants Sair Maldonado-Soto, 22, and Coral Herrera, 21, both of Perris, Riverside County, supplied material, equipment, and personnel to Box 6 and to a grow site in the Lucas Creek drainage with a total of 10,396 marijuana plants for both sites. Maldonado-Soto and Herrera were also responsible for transporting Cardenas and co‑defendant Abel Toledo‑Villa, 35, of Michoacán, Mexico, away from the Box 6 grow site after it was raided. A rifle, ammunition, and processed marijuana were seized from the vehicle occupied by the four defendants as it drove away from the Box 6 grow site.
The marijuana cultivation operations at both sites caused extensive damage to the land and natural resources. Toxic pesticides and fertilizers, miles of plastic irrigation lines, and large amounts of trash were found at both sites. Native trees and vegetation were also removed to make room for the marijuana plants.
Maldonado-Soto was sentenced to three years and four months in prison, Herrera was sentenced to five years of probation, and Toledo-Villa was sentenced to five years in prison.
This case was the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) , Southern Tri-County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) task force, California Department of Justice’s Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Kern County Sheriff’s Office, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, Fontana Police Department, and Victorville Police Department. Assistant United States Attorney Karen Escobar prosecuted the case.