Two Plead Guilty to Marijuana Cultivation in Giant Sequoia National Monument
FRESNO, Calif. — Audencio Pineda-Gaona, 37, and Candelario Jimenez-Ramirez, aka Candelario Rodriguez-Jimenez, 55, both of Mexico, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute and manufacturing marijuana in the Sequoia National Forest, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.
According to court documents, the defendants and several other men were found trimming marijuana buds in the grow site in the Giant Sequoia National Monument in Tulare County. As the agents approached, the men fled. The defendants were apprehended, but the other men got away. Agents found 5,707 marijuana plants and 200 pounds of processed marijuana. They also found a large box of 9 mm ammunition, a holster and a shoulder rig for a 9 mm handgun.
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, a “Species of Special Concern” in the state of California due to habitat loss. Agents also found harmful banned pesticides and large amounts of trash. In pleading guilty, the defendants agreed to pay $5,252 in restitution to the U.S. Forest for the damage caused by their marijuana cultivation activities.
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 U.S. 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 sentencing on May 22, 2017. They face a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The actual sentence, 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.