FRESNO — One defendant was sentenced and one pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiring to cultivate marijuana in the Sierra National Forest in Madera County with the intent to distribute, announced Acting United States Attorney Phillip A. Talbert.
Francisco Javier Gomez-Rodriguez, 38, of Pihuamo, Jalisco, Mexico, was sentenced on Tuesday by United States District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill to three years and five months in prison and ordered to pay $8,750 in restitution to the U.S. Forest Service.
Alejandro Ramirez-Rojo, 31, of Mexico, pleaded guilty to conspiring to grow marijuana with the intent to distribute. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 26.
According to court documents, between Mar. 1, and Aug. 4, 2015, in the Saginaw Creek area of the Sierra National Forest, co-defendant Humberto Ceballos-Rangel, 37, of Mexico, was found at a campsite within the marijuana cultivation site where agents found 5,904 marijuana plants and a loaded firearm.
Gomez-Rodriguez and two other co-defendants, Ramirez‑Rojo and Anthony Isaac Santibanez, 20, of Woodlake, Calif., were found a short time later approaching the grow site in a vehicle used for delivering supplies to the site. A .22-caliber rifle was found in the vehicle, along with .40-caliber rounds of ammunition. Judge O’Neill also ordered the forfeiture of the two firearms and ammunition.
The cultivation operation caused significant environmental damage. Native vegetation was cut to accommodate the marijuana plants, foot trails, and cooking and sleeping areas. Water was 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.
Ceballos-Rangel pleaded guilty and was sentenced in April to three years in prison. Santibanez also pleaded guilty and is scheduled for sentencing Aug. 15. The maximum statutory sentence for conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and to possess with the intent to distribute is 20 years in prison and a $1 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.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the California Department of Justice’s Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Madera County Narcotic Enforcement Team (MADNET). Assistant United States Attorney Karen A. Escobar is prosecuting the case.