FRESNO, Calif. – Large-scale marijuana growers in Tulare County were sentenced and one grower in Stanislaus County pleaded guilty today in federal court, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
Sequoia National Forest Case (1:11-cr-358 AWI)
Jerman Madrigal, aka Jerman Madrigal Cardenas, 20, of Delano, was sentenced to five years in federal prison for possessing a loaded .38-caliber revolver to advance a marijuana growing conspiracy. According to court documents, 16,205 marijuana plants and more than 850 pounds of processed marijuana was found in the Sentinel Peak area of Sequoia National Forest in Tulare County. A loaded .223 Bushmaster assault rifle with two magazines containing 49 rounds of ammunition, a pellet rifle with a scope, and a .45-caliber handgun were also seized from the marijuana grow site.
Madrigal was also ordered to pay $3,686 in restitution to the U.S. Forest Service for the cost of cleaning up the damage caused by the cultivation operation. Native vegetation was cut to make room for the marijuana plants. Trash and fertilizer containers were scattered throughout the site, including in a flowing stream. The case against Madrigal is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement‘s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Bureau of Land Management, Southern Tri-County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), California Department of Justice Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), California Department of Fish and Game, and Tulare County Sheriff‘s Office.
Alpaugh Case (1:12-cr-254 LJO)
Ezidoro Hurtado-Cerillos, 38, an undocumented alien from Colima, Mexico, was sentenced to two years in prison, to be followed by four years of supervised release, for conspiring to grow, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute 250 marijuana plants on a 40-acre agricultural parcel. Landowner Saul Antonio Morales, 47, is charged with a drug conspiracy involving more than 4,000 marijuana plants grown under the guise of being medicinal. Hurtado's sentence follows his guilty plea in October, at which time he acknowledged that he was to pay Morales with marijuana or money after his marijuana was harvested. Hurtado's wife, Ernestina Villareal-Guerrero, 34, of Fresno, and another co-defendant, Eliazar Castellanos-Gutierrez, 26, of Colima, Mexico, have also entered guilty pleas and are scheduled for sentencing next year.
Upon completion of his sentence, Hurtado is subject to deportation to Mexico. This case stems from Operation Mercury, an initiative targeting large-scale rural marijuana growers in six counties in the Central Valley of California, and was investigated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement‘s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and the Tulare County Sheriff‘s Office.
Modesto Case (1:11-cr-339 AWI)
Eudaldo Garcia-Salas, 57, of Modesto, pleaded guilty to cultivating more than 400 marijuana plants surrounded by corn rows grown on residential property on Grimes Road in Modesto. The marijuana was grown under the guise of being medicinal. According to court documents, an assault weapon was found at the grow site and the electricity for the residence was in Garcia‘s name. Garcia resided at another location in Modesto, where additional marijuana plants were found. He is scheduled for sentencing on March 11, 2013 before Senior U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii. Garcia faces a sentence of five to 40 years in prison and a fine of up to $5 million. He is also subject to deportation upon completion of any prison term. This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Stanislaus Drug Enforcement Agency, a multi-agency narcotics task force in Modesto.
Any actual sentences, 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.
Assistant United States Attorney Karen Escobar is prosecuting these cases.