Felipe Angeles Valdez-Colima (Valdez), 35, of Mexico, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute marijuana, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott announced.
According to court documents, Valdez and his co-defendants, Mauricio Vaca-Bucio (Vaca), 31, and Rodolfo Torres-Galvan, 29, (Torres), both of Mexico, were apprehended in the Kiavah Wilderness area of the Sequoia National Forest, a federally designated wilderness area, after a two-month investigation. Law enforcement officers saw Valdez and Torres emerge from the forest at a drop point that had long been used by marijuana cultivators to access grow sites in that remote area. The men entered a vehicle driven by Vaca and were later stopped in the Kern County town of Weldon. Officers found freshly harvested marijuana in their vehicle and located over 1,800 marijuana plants at the grow sites on the interconnected trails from the drop point. The officers also found harmful and illegal pesticides, including carbofuran and zinc phosphide, in the vehicle and at the grow sites. In pleading guilty, Valdez agreed to pay over $7,000 in restitution to the U.S. Forest Service for the damage he caused to the National Forest.
The United States Congress designated the Kiavah Wilderness [sierrawild.gov] in 1994, and it is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service. This wilderness area is part of the National Cooperative Land and Wildlife Management Area and the Bureau of Land Management’s Jawbone-Butterbredt Area of Critical Environmental Concern.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service with assistance from Enforcement and Removal Operations of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California National Guard, Kern County Sheriff’s Office, and Kern County Probation Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar is prosecuting the case.
Valdez is scheduled for sentencing on April 22, 2019. He faces a minimum statutory penalty of 10 years in prison and a maximum statutory penalty of life in prison, along with a $10 million fine. The actual sentence, however, will 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 against Vaca and Torres are still pending. As to them, the charges are only allegations; they are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.