Two large-scale marijuana cultivators entered guilty pleas and one cultivator was sentenced today, U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced. All three federal defendants were involved in marijuana cultivation operations in Kern County.
Second Guilty Plea in Public Lands Case (1:11-cr-305 AWI)
Andrés Muñoz Villa, 42, of Michoacán, Mexico, pleaded guilty today to possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime for a marijuana cultivation operation in the Burnt Canyon area of the Sequoia National Forest.
According to court documents, on August 24, 2011, law enforcement officers found Muñoz guarding 2,953 marijuana plants that he helped tend. He had in his possession a loaded .38-caliber handgun. Native plants were cleared to make room for the marijuana. In addition, trash, fertilizer, and insecticide containers were found stored within a few feet of Burnt Canyon Creek. Muñoz has agreed to pay $1,482 in restitution to the Forest Service to cover the cost of cleaning up the land.
Muñoz is scheduled for sentencing on April 8, 2013 before Senior U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii. He faces a prison term of five years and a fine of $250,000. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory sentencing factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.
Muñoz’s co-defendant, Cirrilo Gutierrez-Garcia, pleaded guilty and was sentenced on July 9, 2012 to two and a half years in prison.
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), Kern County Sheriff’s Department, and Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), a multi-agency law enforcement task force composed of local, state and federal agencies organized expressly to eradicate illegal marijuana cultivation and trafficking in California.
Second Guilty Plea in Kern County Ranch Case (1:12-cr-299 LJO)
Rufino Orozco Martinez, 32, of Arvin, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to cultivate, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute 920 marijuana plants that were grown on private ranch land in Kern County.
According to court documents, in August 2012, law enforcement officers executed a search warrant and seized three pounds of processed marijuana and an assault rifle from the ranch.
Orozco is scheduled for sentencing on April 22, 2013 before U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill. He faces a mandatory prison term of five years and a maximum prison term of 40 years, along with a fine of up to $5 million. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory sentencing factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.
This case was investigated by the DEA, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and Kern County Sheriff’s Office. The investigation was conducted in conjunction with Operation Mercury, an initiative targeting large-scale rural marijuana growers in six counties in the Central Valley of California.
Sentencing in Ecological Reserve Case (1:12-cr-0283 AWI)
Mairo Correa García, 19, an undocumented alien from Michoacán, Mexico, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for conspiring to cultivate 454 marijuana plants in the Fay Canyon area of the Canebrake Ecological Reserve. Correa was also ordered to pay $2,568 in restitution to the High Sierra Trail Volunteer Crew for the cost of cleaning up the grow site.
The Canebrake Ecological Reserve is a California nature reserve in South Fork Valley in northeastern Kern County and is administered by the California Department of Fish and Game. The area is home to many rare and protected plants and animals, including the federally protected golden and bald eagles and peregrine falcon, the threatened California red-legged frog, Valley elderberry longhorn beetle, and the endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher.
This case is the product of an investigation by the California Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and Kern County Sheriff’s Office. The investigation was part of Operation Mercury.
Assistant United States Attorney Karen Escobar is prosecuting these cases.