FRESNO — U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner and U.S. Forest Service Special Agent in Charge Scott Harris said that one defendant was sentenced today for growing marijuana in the Stanislaus National Forest, and two defendants pleaded guilty in a second case to growing marijuana in the Sequoia National Forest.
Carlos Alcaras-Cuevas, 26, of Michoacán, Mexico, was sentenced Monday to 46 months in prison for conspiring to cultivate, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana. He was also ordered to pay the U.S. Forest Service $4,921 to cover the cost of cleaning up the cultivation site.
According to court documents, Alcaras-Cuevas was responsible for planting and cultivating about 11,105 marijuana plants in Mariposa County within the Stanislaus National Forest. Damage to the land occurred when native vegetation was cleared to plant the marijuana.
Alcaras-Cuevas has been in custody since May 26, 2011 as a flight risk and danger to the community. This case was the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service and the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Escobar prosecuted the case.
In the second case, two brothers, Israel Armas Ramirez, 26; and Ascencion Armas Ramirez, 29; both of Michoacán, Mexico, pleaded guilty Monday to conspiring to cultivate, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana and possessing firearms to further the drug conspiracy.
According to the guilty pleas, the brothers conspired with others to cultivate 6,867 marijuana plants on public land in the area of Bohna Creek in the Sequoia National Forest in Kern County. To further the conspiracy, they also possessed a loaded Browning Arms 9 mm semiautomatic pistol and a loaded SKS 7.62 X .39-caliber semiautomatic assault rifle.
The marijuana cultivation operation resulted in substantial environmental damage. Law enforcement officers found malathion, urea fertilizer, batteries, several thousand feet of plastic irrigation lines and trash at the grow site, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Oak trees and other vegetation were cut to allow sunlight to reach the plants. The Armas Ramirez brothers have agreed to repay the government $3,825 for cleaning up the site.
Israel Armas Ramirez is scheduled for sentencing on June 25, and Ascencion Armas Ramirez is scheduled for sentencing July 9 before U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill. On the drug conspiracy charges, the defendants face a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life in prison, as well as a fine of up to $10 million.
They also both face an additional mandatory consecutive term of five years and a fine of up to $250,000 for the firearms offense. The Armas Ramirez brothers have been in custody since July 26, 2010, after having been ordered detained as a flight risk and danger to the community.
The Armas Ramirez case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Office of Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Kern County Sheriff’s Office, Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, Kern County Probation Office, Bakersfield Police Department, Shafter Police Department, Taft Police Department, and U.S. Forest Service. Assistant United States Attorneys Karen Escobar and Alyson Berg are prosecuting the case.