FRESNO— On October 16, 2017, Alfredo Cardenas-Suastegui (“Cardenas”), 56, a native and citizen of Mexico, pleaded guilty to charges relating to cultivating a large grow of marijuana in the Sequoia National Forest with the intent to distribute it. In addition to his plea, Cardenas also agreed to pay restitution to the U.S. Forest Service for the damage to public land and natural resources caused by the marijuana cultivation activities.
“These illegal grows damage land, and the mere presence of armed, ‘grow’ caretakers, is a danger to visitors,” said California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) President Alan Barcelona.
According to court documents, co-defendants Sair Maldonado-Soto, 22, and Coral Herrera, 21, both of Perris, California, were linked to two separate grow sites in the Sequoia National Forest after a four-month investigation. The investigation revealed that they were supplying material, equipment, and personnel to the grow sites, which consisted of a total of 10,396 marijuana plants. They were also responsible for transporting Cardenas and co-defendant Abel Toledo-Villa, 34, of Michoacán, Mexico, away from one of the grow sites after it was raided. Both Cardenas and Toledo-Villa tended to the marijuana plants at one of the grow sites. A rifle, ammunition, and processed marijuana were seized from the vehicle occupied by the four defendants as it drove away.
The marijuana cultivation operations at both sites caused extensive damage to the land and natural resources. Harmful pesticides and fertilizers, miles of plastic irrigation lines, and large amounts of trash were found at both sites. Native trees and vegetation were also removed to make room for the marijuana plants.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Southern Tri-County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) task force, California Department of Justice’s Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Kern County Sheriff’s Office, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, Fontana Police Department, and Victorville Police Department. Assistant United States Attorney Karen Escobar is prosecuting the case.
Cardenas, who has been detained as a flight risk and danger to the community, is scheduled for sentencing on February 12, 2018. He faces a statutory mandatory minimum penalty of 5 years and a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison, along with a $5 million fine. Herrera and Maldonado previously entered guilty pleas and are scheduled for sentencing on December 4 and 18, respectively. Toledo-Villa previously entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to 5 years in prison.