Toxic Marijuana Grow Nets 10-Year Prison Term
FRESNO, Calif. — Hernan Cortez Villasenor (Cortez), 40, of Michoacàn, Mexico, was sentenced today to 10 years in prison for his involvement in a toxic marijuana cultivation operation in the Greenhorn Creek area of the Sequoia National Forest in Kern County, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced. Cortez was also ordered to pay $3,328 in restitution to the U.S. Forest Service for the damage caused by his marijuana cultivation operation.
On July 7, 2014, Cortez pleaded guilty to conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana and distributing unregistered pesticides, in violation of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). According to court documents, Cortez supplied toxic rat poison and other chemicals and materials to support the 8,876 marijuana plants growing on public land. The site sustained extensive damage as a result of the cultivation activities. Native oak trees and other vegetation were cut down or otherwise killed to make room for the marijuana plants. The soil was tilled, and fertilizers and pesticides, including Fosfuro de Zinc, a common Mexican rat poison containing zinc phosphide, were spread throughout the site. Law enforcement officers also found 30 containers of Fosfuro de Zinc at Cortez’s residence in Arvin, California.
The EPA has designated zinc phosphide as a restricted-use pesticide, which means that it may only be purchased and used by, or under the supervision of, a certified applicator. Zinc phosphide is banned for residential sale due to its acute toxicity. A single swallow can be fatal to a small child.
Upon completion of his prison sentence, Cortez is subject to deportation to Mexico.
This case was the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Criminal Investigation Division (EPA-CID), and the Kern County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant United States Attorney Karen Escobar prosecuted the case.