Mexican national pleads guilty to growing pot on Kern County ecological reserve

FRESNO, Calif. — Mairo Correa-Garcia, 18, an undocumented alien from Michoacán, Mexico, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to grow, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana grown on the Canebrake Ecological Reserve, U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

The reserve is in South Fork Valley in northeastern Kern County. The area is home to many rare and protected plants and animals, including the federally protected golden and bald eagles and peregrine falcon, the federally threatened California red-legged frog and valley elderberry longhorn beetle, and the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher.

In pleading guilty, Correa-Garcia admitted that he conspired with Cruz Soria, 27, of Bakersfield, to grow 454 marijuana plants in the Fay Canyon area of the reserve. According to court records, law enforcement officers seized the marijuana plants, about 12 pounds of processed marijuana, and a stolen firearm. Among the plants, they also found several highly toxic pesticides along Fay Creek. Among the chemicals found were Fosfuro de Zinc, a rat poison illegal to use in the United States, and Furadan, an insecticide banned by the EPA for usage on crops consumed by humans. Both pesticides are highly toxic to humans.

Correa-Garcia is scheduled for sentencing before Chief U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii on December 3, 2102. He faces a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison, a maximum of 40 years in prison, and a $5 million fine. 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.

Charges are pending against Soria. He is scheduled for a status conference before a U.S. Magistrate Judge on October 9. The allegations in the indictment are mere accusations and he is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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. Assistant United States Attorney Karen Escobar is prosecuting the case.

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