FRESNO. — On November 5, 2018, Maximiliano Farias-Martinez (Farias), 49, a Mexican national residing in Merced County, pleaded guilty to conspiring to cultivate marijuana.
According to court documents, Farias supervised Jose Manuel Sanchez-Zapien (Sanchez), 38, of Dos Palos, who delivered supplies to growers at a marijuana cultivation site in the Sequoia National Forest. The drop point has been used numerous times in the past to supply marijuana growers in the Slick Rock Creek drainage. Law enforcement officers found more than 20,000 marijuana plants at the site.
The cultivation operation caused significant damage to public land. Approximately three acres were stripped of vegetation and the ground was terraced to accommodate the marijuana plants. Large amounts of ammonium nitrate and other fertilizers were found at the site. Containers of insecticide and trash were found scattered throughout the grow site. The cost to clean up the area amounted to $8,665. Farias has agreed to make restitution to the Forest Service in that amount.
Farias is scheduled for sentencing on January 22, 2019, in federal court in Fresno. He faces a minimum statutory penalty of 10 years in prison and a maximum statutory penalty of life in prison, along with a $10 million fine.
Earlier this year, Farias’ co-conspirator Sanchez pleaded guilty to the drug conspiracy and was sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay restitution to the Forest Service.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service with assistance from Homeland Security Investigations, Office of Investigations of Social Security Administration, Drug Enforcement Administration, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Merced Area Gang and Narcotics Enforcement Team (MAGNET).
“We must stop illegal marijuana growers and the damage they wreak on public land,” said California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) President Alan Barcelona. “These growers pose a public safety threat to hikers who might happen upon the grow and typically care very little about contaminating or polluting our creeks and water ways. To our law enforcement officers who combat marijuana grows on public land, please remain safe, and thank you for your service.”