FRESNO — A federal grand jury returned an indictment today against four individuals for their involvement in a large marijuana cultivation operation on the Sierra National Forest in Madera County.
United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced the charges against Francisco Javier Gomez-Rodriguez, 37, Alejandro Ramirez-Rojo, aka Alejandro Ramires, 30, and Humberto Ceballos-Rangel, 37, all citizens of Mexico, and Anthony Isaac Santibanez, 19, of Woodlake, Calif.
The men were each charged with conspiracy, manufacturing marijuana, distributing marijuana, possessing marijuana with intent to distribute, and damaging public land and natural resources.
According to court documents, Ceballos-Rangel was found at a campsite within the marijuana cultivation site, where agents found 5,904 marijuana plants and a loaded firearm.
Gomez-Rodriguez, Ramirez-Rojo, and Santibanez were found a short time later approaching the grow site in a vehicle previously identified as a load vehicle used for the delivery of supplies to the grow site. A .22 caliber rifle was also reportedly found in the load vehicle, along with .40 caliber rounds of ammunition.
The cultivation operation caused significant harm to the environmental landscape, say Forest Service officials. Native vegetation was cut to accommodate the marijuana plants, foot trails, and cooking and sleeping areas. Water was also diverted from a nearby creek to irrigate the marijuana plants. A large quantity of trash was also found in trash pits and throughout the site.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), California Department of Justice’s Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Madera County Narcotic Enforcement Team (MADNET). Assistant United States Attorney Karen A. Escobar is prosecuting the case.
All but Santibanez have been ordered detained pending trial. The defendants are scheduled to appear in federal court on Aug. 14, for arraignment on the indictment.
If convicted, the defendants face, as to each drug count, a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison and up to a $1 million fine.
As to the environmental charge, the defendants face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. 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; each defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.