Two Men Indicted for Marijuana Cultivation Operation in Giant Sequoia National Monument
FRESNO, Calif. — A federal grand jury returned a three-count indictment today against Mexican nationals Audencio Pineda-Gaona, 36, and Calendario Jimenez-Ramirez, aka Calendario Rodriguez-Jimenez, 54, charging them with conspiring to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute and manufacturing marijuana on federal land, and with damaging public land and natural resources as a result of the marijuana cultivation activities, Acting United States Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.
According to court documents, the defendants and several other men were found trimming marijuana buds at the grow site in the federally designated Giant Sequoia National Monument in Tulare County in the Sequoia National Forest. Agents found 5,707 marijuana plants and 200 pounds of processed marijuana.
The marijuana cultivation operation caused extensive damage to the land and natural resources. Native trees and shrubs had been cut down to make room for the marijuana plants. Water had been diverted from a tributary stream of the Kern River, which supports Kern River Rainbow Trout. Agents found harmful, banned pesticides and large amounts of trash.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, the California Department of Justice’s Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant United States Attorney Karen Escobar is prosecuting the case.
The defendants were previously ordered detained as a flight risk and danger to the community. The men are scheduled for arraignment on the indictment on October 11 in federal court in Fresno. If convicted of the most serious drug offenses as charged in counts one and two, Pineda-Gaona and Jimenez-Ramirez 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 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.