U.S. Department of Justice
United States Attorney
Eastern District of California
For Immediate Release
August 6, 2010
Benjamin B. Wagner, United States Attorney
Contact: Lauren Horwood
11 Indicted in Connection With Multi-Agency Marijuana Eradication Effort
Operation Trident Targets Growers in Three-County Area
FRESNO, Calif. — United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced today that 11 criminal defendants were indicted yesterday by a federal grand jury sitting in Fresno in connection with Operation Trident, an intensive multi-agency marijuana eradication effort in Madera, Fresno, and Tulare Counties that commenced in 2009, and is coordinated by the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy. Operation Trident has resulted in the eradication of approximately 465,112 marijuana plants, primarily from public lands in the Sierra foothills and mountains.
Juan Chavez Martinez, 32, Rosalia Gomez-ortiz, 35, both of Dinuba, Joel Sandoval Ramirez, aka Noe Alvarez Ceballos, 34, and Ediberto Ceballos-Alvarez, aka Ediberto Ceballos, 30, both of Madera, were charged with conspiracy to manufacture or cultivate 1,000 or more marijuana plants and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. Eduardo Vargas-Cortes, 24, of San Jose, was charged with possessing approximately three pounds of crystal methamphetamine with intent to distribute. These narcotics offenses all carry a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years and a maximum term of life in prison, as well as a fine of up to $4 million. Perfecto Gutierrez-Torres, 28, of Orosi, was charged with being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm, which carries a maximum prison term of 10 years and a fine of up to $250,000. The remaining five defendants were charged with being illegal aliens found in the United States after having been previously deported or removed. Three of these defendants were previously deported or removed after sustaining felony convictions for drug or human trafficking. The maximum penalty for the immigration violations is 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
While investigations of the cultivation of marijuana continue under the Operation Trident umbrella, 58 federal defendants have been indicted to date on federal criminal charges, and 24 have been convicted. In the course of these cases, law enforcement agents have seized 78,147 marijuana plants, 23 pounds of processed marijuana, 6.9 pounds of marijuana seeds, two kilograms of cocaine, 17 firearms, and one vehicle.
The federal criminal cases resulted from the coordinated efforts of multiple federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, including the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, Madera County Sheriff’s Office, Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, the California National Guard Counterdrug Task Force, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), ICE Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), California Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement (BNE), California Department of Fish and Game, Central Valley HIDTA, and the Central Valley Marijuana Investigation Team (CVMIT). Assistance was also provided by the Fresno County, Madera County and Tulare County District Attorney’s Offices. Additional federal prosecutions are contemplated upon completion of ongoing investigations.
United States Attorney Wagner stated,
Operation Trident has made a significant dent in the cultivation of marijuana in the tri-counties of Fresno, Madera, and Tulare. However, the illegal cultivation of marijuana — and attendant destruction — on public land continues. We will not stop until we dismantle those illegal activities and restore our land to its pristine state.
The charges are only allegations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.