Man gets two years in prison for marijuana grow in Sequoia National Park
fresno — A Mexican national was sentenced last week to two years and one month in prison for conspiring to manufacture, distribute and sell marijuana grown on a Native American archaeological site in Sequoia National Park.
Carlos Piedra-Murillo (Piedra), 30, a citizen of Mexico, was sentenced for the crimes on June 5 in the Eastern District of California. The U.S. District Court also ordered Piedra to pay $5,233 to the U.S. Forest Service to cover the cost to repair damage to the land and natural resources.
According to court documents, between May 1, 2016, and August 26, 2016, Piedra conspired with Juan Carlos Lopez, 32, of Lake Elsinore; Rafael Torres-Armenta (Torres), 30, and Javier Garcia-Castaneda (Garcia), 38, both citizens of Mexico, to cultivate marijuana in the Domeland Wilderness in the Sequoia National Forest. The Domeland Wilderness is a federally designated wilderness area about 55 miles northeast of Bakersfield and is known for its many granite domes and unique geologic formations. Law enforcement officers located over 8,000 marijuana plants at that location and seized 15 pounds of processed marijuana, a .22‑caliber rifle, a pellet rifle, and numerous rounds of .22‑caliber ammunition.
The marijuana cultivation operation caused extensive environmental damage. It covered about 10 acres and was within the burned area of the 2000 Manter Fire. Some of the new vegetation and trees that sprouted after the fire had been cut and trimmed to make room for the marijuana plants. Water was diverted from a tributary stream of Trout Creek, a major tributary to the Kern River. Fertilizer and pesticides, including illegal carbofuran and zinc phosphide, highly toxic pesticides from Mexico, were found at the site. Large piles of trash were found near the campsite. The moving of soil to accommodate a basin around each marijuana plant caused extensive damage to a large prehistoric Tűbatulabal archaeological site. Holes were dug in the middle of the archaeological site and artifacts were found scattered on the surface among the marijuana plants.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Escobar is prosecuting the case.
Torres, Lopez, and Garcia have also pleaded guilty and are scheduled for sentencing on June 26, 2017. They face a maximum statutory penalty of 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.