Two Men Indicted for Growing Marijuana in Sequoia National Forest
FRESNO, Calif. — A federal grand jury returned a four-count indictment today against Macedonio Madrigal-Herrera (Madrigal), 44, and Ezequiel Armas-Ortiz (Armas), 49, both of Mexico, charging them with conspiring to cultivate, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana; cultivating and possessing with intent to distribute marijuana; and damaging public land and natural resources as a result of the large-scale marijuana cultivation operation, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
According to court documents, on July 30, 2015, Madrigal and Armas were found at the cultivation site in the Brush Creek drainage in the Sequoia National Forest in Tulare County during the execution of a federal search warrant. Agents removed 2,719 marijuana plants from the site and found toxic chemicals, fertilizer, and trash strewn throughout. The cultivation activities caused extensive damage to the land and natural resources. Trees and plants, newly generated following the 2002 McNally Fire, were cut down to make room for the marijuana. Water was diverted from a nearby stream that supports trout.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the California National Guard, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Tulare County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant United States Attorney Karen Escobar is prosecuting the case.
Armas and Madrigal were previously ordered detained as a flight risk and danger to the community and are scheduled for arraignment on the indictment on August 12, 2015, in federal court in Fresno. If convicted of the drug offenses, they face a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine as to each count. If convicted of the environmental crime, the defendants face a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and restitution. 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.