FRESNO — The second of four defendants charged with growing marijuana on public lands in Madera County pleaded guilty yesterday in U.S. District Court.
Francisco Javier Gomez-Rodriguez, 38, of Mexico, pleaded guilty to conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana grown in the Sierra National Forest in Madera County.
According to court documents, co-defendant Humberto Ceballos-Rangel, 37, also of Mexico, was found at a marijuana cultivation campsite where agents discovered 5,904 marijuana plants. Gomez-Rodriguez and two other co‑defendants, Alejandro Ramirez-Rojo, 31, of Mexico, and Anthony Isaac Santibanez, 20, of Woodlake, Calif., were found a short time later approaching the grow site in a vehicle delivering supplies.
Co-defendant Ceballos-Rangel pleaded guilty on Jan. 20. Both Gomez-Rodriguez and Ceballos-Rangel have agreed to make restitution to the U.S. Forest Service for the damage they inflicted on the public land and natural resources as a result of their marijuana cultivation activities. Native vegetation was cut down, and water was diverted from a nearby creek to irrigate the marijuana plants. A large quantity of trash was also found at the site.
Gomez-Rodriguez is scheduled for sentencing before U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill on June 13. Ceballos-Rangel is scheduled for sentencing on Apr. 18. They face a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The actual sentences, 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.
Santibanez and Ramirez-Rojo are scheduled for trial on Aug. 9. They face additional charges, including depredation of public land and natural resources.
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.
(Stock photos of marijuana cultivation sites in the foothills of Madera County – from Madera Co. Sheriff’s Office)