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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of California

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Mexican Nationals Indicted For Growing Marijuana In The Sequoia National Forest In Kern County

FRESNO, Calif. — A federal grand jury returned a three-count indictment today against Mexican nationals Jesus Avalos-Cervantes, 26, and Pedro Pantoja-Padilla, 46, charging them with one count of conspiring to distribute, possess with intent to distribute, and manufacture marijuana, one count of manufacturing marijuana, and one count of causing more than $1,000 in damage to the national forest, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

According to court documents, on June 4, 2014, United States Forest Service agents and Kern County Sheriff’s deputies executed a search warrant in the Kern River drainage of the Sequoia National Forest in Kern County. Officers located over 5,500 marijuana plants. Pantoja-Padilla was placed under arrest, but Cervantes was able to flee and avoid apprehension. Cervantes was identified through documents he left behind. Extensive damage was caused to the national forest as a result of the marijuana cultivation. Native vegetation had been cut and removed, and the steep hillside had been dug and terraced into plots. Fertilizers, pesticides and rodenticides were found throughout the site, including the banned pesticides zinc phosphide and furadan.

This case is the product of an investigation by the United States Forest Service and the Kern County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant United States Attorney Brian K. Delaney is prosecuting the case.

If convicted, Pantoja-Padilla faces a maximum statutory penalty of 40 years in prison and a $5 million fine. If convicted, Jesus Avalos-Cervantes faces a maximum statutory penalty of life in prison and a $10 million 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.

Updated April 8, 2015