Riverside County Man Sentenced for Marijuana Cultivation Operations in Sequoia National Forest in Kern County
FRESNO, Calif. — Sair Maldonado-Soto (Maldonado), 22, of Perris, was sentenced today to three years and four months in prison for conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana in connection with two separate large-scale marijuana cultivation operations in Kern County in the Sequoia National Forest, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott announced. Maldonado was also ordered to pay $10,756.02 to the U.S. Forest Service for the damage to public land and natural resources caused by the marijuana cultivation activities.
In September, Maldonado pleaded guilty to the conspiracy after he and his girlfriend and co-defendant, Coral Herrera, 21, also of Perris, were linked to grow sites in the Lucas Creek drainage and an area known as the Box 6 site following a four-month investigation. The investigation revealed that they were supplying material, equipment, and personnel to the two grow sites, which consisted of 10,396 marijuana plants. They were also responsible for transporting co-defendants Abel Toledo-Villa, 34, and Alfredo Cardenas-Suastegui, 56, both of Mexico, away from the Box 6 grow site after it was searched.
The marijuana cultivation operations caused extensive damage to the land and natural resources. Highly toxic pesticides were found at both sites and at Maldonado’s residence in Perris. Many miles of plastic irrigation lines were spread throughout the sites. Native trees and vegetation were also removed to make room for the marijuana plants.
The remaining three defendants have pleaded guilty. Toledo-Villa has been sentenced to five years in prison. Herrera and Cardenas-Suastegui are scheduled for sentencing on January 22 and February 12, 2018. Cardenas-Suastegui faces a statutory mandatory minimum penalty of five years in prison and a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison, and a $5 million fine. Herrera faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $1 million. The actual sentences, 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.
This case is 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 U.S. Attorney Karen Escobar is prosecuting the case.