FRESNO, Calif. -
Three cases against three men involved in separate marijuana cultivation operations in Fresno and Kern Counties were resolved today in federal court, according to U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner.
Green Horn Canyon Marijuana Grow
Alfonso Cornejo, 30, of Michoacán, Mexico, pleaded guilty to conspiring to cultivate, distribute and possess with intent to cultivate 8,876 marijuana plants grown in the Sequoia National Forest in Kern County near the Greenhorn Creek Trail. In pleading guilty, Cornejo acknowledged that he was responsible for delivering equipment and supplies, including a banned toxic pesticide, to workers at the grow site.
The Greenhorn Creek site sustained extensive damage as a result of the cultivation activities. Native oak trees and other vegetation were cut down or otherwise killed to make room for the marijuana plants. The soil was tilled, and fertilizers and pesticides were spread throughout the site, including pesticides from Mexico that are banned in the United States. Trash and water lines were found throughout the site, all of which have to be removed by helicopter.
Cornejo is scheduled to be sentenced on June 17, 2013, by Senior U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii. Cornejo faces a mandatory minimum prison term of 10 years and a maximum term of life in prison, along with a fine of up to $10 million.
Burnt Canyon Marijuana Grow
Andrés Muñoz Villa, 43, of Michoacán, Mexico, was sentenced to five years in prison for possessing a loaded .38-caliber handgun in furtherance of a conspiracy to cultivate, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute 2,953 marijuana plants grown in the Burnt Canyon area of Kern County in the Sequoia National Forest. Muñoz was also ordered to pay $1,482 in restitution to the U.S. Forest Service for damage to public lands and resources caused by the marijuana cultivation activities. According to court documents, Muñoz was responsible for watering and caring the marijuana plants and tried to flee when law enforcement officers entered the grow site. He had a loaded .38-caliber firearm on his person when he was apprehended. Native plants were cleared to make room for the marijuana plants. In addition, trash, fertilizer, and insecticide containers were found stored within a few feet of Burnt Canyon Creek. Upon completion of his prison term, Muñoz is subject to deportation to Mexico.
Squaw Valley, Fresno County Grow
Bounseuth Thourakhone, aka Boun Seuth Thourakhone, 53, of Fresno, pleaded guilty to conspiring to cultivate, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute marijuana, manufacturing marijuana and possessing 1,429 marijuana plants grown on rural farm land in Squaw Valley rented by Thourakhone.
Thourakhone is scheduled to be sentence on July 1, 2013, by U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii. Thourakhone faces a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison and a $10 million fine.
To date, Operation Mercury has resulted in the prosecution of 83 federal defendants and seizure of approximately 482,479 marijuana plants, 2,728.71 pounds of processed marijuana, 82 weapons, and $113,783 in cash.