Fresno, California - Four men were indicted Thursday for their roles in a marijuana cultivation operation in the Sequoia National Forest, following a joint probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, and the Kern County Sheriff’s Office.
A federal grand jury returned a four-count indictment Thursday against Armando Arnoldo Martinez-Tinoco, 36; his brother, Juan Carlos Martinez-Tinoco, 41; and Luis Enrique Flores, 23, all of Mexico; and Ivan De Jesus Jimenez, 30, of La Puente, charging them with a conspiracy to cultivate marijuana on public land, cultivating and possessing marijuana with intent to distribute, and damaging public land and natural resources.
According to court documents, on Oct. 17 law enforcement officers entered the marijuana cultivation site near The Needles, a series of massive granite spires atop a ridge in the Sequoia National Forest in Tulare County. The defendants fled, but were later found in the Kernville and Weldon areas. Agents removed 2,608 marijuana plants from the site and found highly toxic chemicals, fertilizer, and trash strewn throughout. The cultivation activities caused extensive damage to the land and natural resources. Native trees and plants were cut down to make room for the marijuana. Water was diverted from a spring that supports a dwindling breed of indigenous trout, the Kern River Rainbow Trout.
The defendants are scheduled for arraignment Nov. 2 in Fresno. If convicted of the drug offenses, the defendants face a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. If convicted of the environmental crime, the defendants face a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and restitution. Any sentence, however, would 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. The charges are only allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Escobar is prosecuting the case.