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Press Release

Woman Sentenced For Growing Marijuana In Sequoia National Forest And Damaging Public Lands

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of California

FRESNO, Calif. — Marcelina Botello Charles, aka Marcelina Botello Arias (Botello), 46, of Hemet, was sentenced today to four years and two months in prison for her involvement in a marijuana cultivation operation that had adverse environmental impacts on public lands, U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

On May 19, 2014, Botello pleaded guilty to conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute 9,746 marijuana plants grown in the Lilly Canyon area of the Sequoia National Forest and distributing Ratone: Fosfuro de Zinc, an illegal rodenticide, and QúFuran, an illegal insecticide, in violation of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).

According to court documents, Botello and a companion delivered the illegal pesticides and other materials to the forest cultivation site. The cultivation operation caused extensive environmental damage. Native oak trees and other vegetation were killed or cut down to make room for the marijuana plants. The soil was tilled and fertilizers, pesticides, and rodenticides were spread throughout the site. Cans of rat poison and insecticide were found at both the cultivation site and a residence Botello rented in Bakersfield. During the execution of a search warrant, agents also found marijuana seeds, other items associated with the cultivation operation, and $2,634 in cash.

Ratone: Forsfuro de Zinc contains zinc phosphide, an inorganic rodenticide that is highly toxic to mammals and fish. A single swallow of zinc phosphide could be fatal to a small child. Zinc phosphide can be expected to persist in soil for approximately two weeks. When it breaks down in soil it can release phosphine gas.

QúFuran contains carbofuran, a highly toxic insecticide. In granular form, a single grain will kill a bird; for humans, one quarter of a teaspoon is a sufficient dose to be fatal. It is also a powerful endocrine disrupter. Effective December 31, 2009, EPA cancelled all food tolerances for carbofuran.

“Illegal marijuana cultivation plagues our pristine national forests,” said Scott Harris, U.S. Forest Service Special Agent in Charge. “Those involved in this criminal activity place the community and their natural resources in danger. U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement and our partners are committed to deterring, investigating, and prosecuting individuals and organizations that would exploit our public lands for such purposes.”

“Increasingly, dangerous, unregistered pesticides are being encountered by law enforcement officers who investigate illegal marijuana grows,” said Jay M. Green, Special Agent-in-Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in California. “Through their indiscriminate application, these unregistered pesticides pollute our lands and waters, create a significant safety risk to humans and animals, and present a mounting cleanup expense for taxpayers. Today’s sentence demonstrates the government’s commitment to hold accountable those individuals who traffic unregistered pesticides onto our public lands.”

Upon completion of her prison sentence, Botello will be on supervised release for five years. She was also ordered to pay $4,294 in restitution to the U.S. Forest Service to cover the cost of cleaning up the grow site. Earlier this year, Botello’s co-defendant, Julio Cesar Villanueva Cornejo was sentenced to six years in prison for his involvement in the conspiracy.

This case was the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the 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.

Updated April 8, 2015

Press Release Number: Docket #: 1:12-cr-221 LJO