Mexican Nationals Indicted for Forest Marijuana Cultivation Operation
FRESNO, Calif. — A federal grand jury returned a four-count indictment today against Antonio Garcia-Villa (Garcia), 46, and Uriel Silva-Garcia (Silva), both Mexican nationals, charging them with conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute, manufacturing, and possessing with intent to distribute marijuana in connection with a large-scale cultivation operation in the Sequoia National Forest, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced. The men were also charged with damaging public land and natural resources as a result of cultivating marijuana near Little Poso Creek, which drains into the Kern National Wildlife Refuge.
According to court documents, Garcia and Silva were found at the cultivation site in May 2015. Agents removed 8,596 marijuana plants from the site, along with pesticides, fertilizer, trash, water lines, and equipment. The cultivation activities caused extensive damage to the land and natural resources. Native trees and plants were cut down and steep hillsides were terraced to plant the marijuana.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, Kern County Sheriff’s Office, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). Assistant United States Attorney Karen Escobar is prosecuting the case.
Garcia and Silva are in custody and are scheduled for arraignment on the indictment on June 24, 2015, in federal court in Fresno. If convicted of the drug offenses, the men face a statutory penalty of 10 years to life in prison and a $10 million fine. If convicted of the environmental crime, the men face a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 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 are only allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.