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Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Eastern District of California

For Immediate Release

Monday, June 25, 2012

Benjamin B. Wagner, United States Attorney

Contact: Lauren Horwood

Multiple Defendants Sentenced for Growing Marijuana in Sequoia National Forest

FRESNO, Calif. — Three defendants were sentenced and one pleaded guilty today for growing marijuana in Sequoia National Forest, U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

1:11–cr–358 AWI Cultivation operation in the Sentinel Peak area in Tulare County.

In the first case, U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii sentenced Antonio Morales, 20, of Puebla, Mexico, to three years and 10 months in prison and Javier Aranda–Barajas, 33, of Tijuana, Mexico, to four years in prison. Another co–conspirator, Gauvencio Madrigal–Chavez, 61, of Delano, pleaded guilty to participating in the marijuana cultivation operation. All three men have agreed to pay $3,686 in restitution to the U.S. Forest Service for the cost up cleaning up the land and to restore natural resources damaged by the illicit cultivation operation. All are subject to deportation after serving their prison sentences.

According to court documents, Morales and Aranda–Barajas were found by a California Fish and Game warden last October about two miles from the marijuana grow operation where they had been working before law enforcement officers had disrupted it. At the Sentinel Peak grow site, law enforcement agents found more than 16,205 marijuana plants, more than 850 pounds of processed marijuana, and three firearms, including an assault rifle. Madrigal–Chavez was found in the grow site and was apprehended while trying to flee. 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.

Madrigal–Chavez is scheduled for sentencing before Judge Ishii on September 24, 2012.

1:10–cr–00353 LJO Cultivation near Bohna Creek in the Sequoia National Forest in Kern County.

In a separate case, United States District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill sentenced Israel Armas Ramirez, 27, of Michoacán, Mexico, today to 12 years in prison for conspiring to grow, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana, and possessing firearms in furtherance of the drug conspiracy, U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced. Armas Ramirez was also ordered to repay the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, $3,825 for cleaning up the site.

According to court documents, Armas Ramirez conspired with others to grow about 6,867 marijuana plants on public land He also possessed a loaded Browning Arms 9 mm semi–automatic pistol and a loaded SKS 7.62 X .39–caliber semi–automatic assault rifle. Law enforcement officers found malathion, urea fertilizer, batteries, several thousand feet of plastic irrigation lines, and trash at the grow site. Oak trees and other vegetation were cut to allow sunlight to reach the plants.

These cases were 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 Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Southern Tri–County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), California Department of Justice Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), California Department of Fish and Game, the Sheriff’s Departments of Tulare and Kern County, the Kern County Probation Office and the Police Departments of Bakersfield, Shafter, and Taft. Assistant United States Attorneys Karen Escobar and Alyson Berg are prosecuting the cases.