Fresno County felon indicted for growing marijuana in national forest

Posted: 1:06 PM, Sep 01, 2016
Updated: 2016-09-01 16:06:47-04

A federal grand jury returned a seven-count indictment today against Gary Lee Ortiz, 41, of Auberry, charging him in connection with a large-scale marijuana cultivation operation located near Mill Creek in Fresno County in the Sierra National Forest Acting United States Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

Ortiz was charged with conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess with the intent to distribute marijuana, with manufacture of marijuana, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, maintaining a drug-involved premises, with damaging public land and natural resources, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number.

According to court documents, Ortiz oversaw a large marijuana cultivation operation on property where he resided in Auberry and also on public land nearby in the Sierra National Forest. The cultivation sites contained over 12,746 marijuana plants and were in close proximity to Shaver Lake and other recreational areas. Law enforcement officers eradicated the plants and seized four firearms from the property where Ortiz resided. At the time, Ortiz was prohibited from possessing a firearm.

The marijuana cultivation operation caused extensive damage to the land and natural resources. The marijuana plants were irrigated by water that had been diverted from Mill Creek. Mill Creek flows into the San Joaquin River above Millerton Lake’s Friant Dam, which is a major water supply for the San Joaquin Valley. In addition to the marijuana, law enforcement officers removed over 2,000 pounds of irrigation hose, fertilizers, and trash from the cultivation sites.

This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, and Fresno County Probation. Assistant United States Attorney Karen Escobar is prosecuting the case.

Ortiz was ordered detained and is scheduled for arraignment on September 9, 2016, in federal court in Fresno. If convicted of the drug offenses as charged in counts one through three, Ortiz faces a mandatory minimum statutory penalty of 10 years and a maximum statutory penalty of life in prison and a $10 million fine as to each count.

If convicted of the environmental crime, Ortiz faces a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. If convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm, Ortiz faces a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in prison. If convicted of possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number, Ortiz faces a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison. As to both firearms offenses, he also faces 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 defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.