“We must protect the public, our public lands, and our fish and wildlife from the illegal activity of marijuana grows in our state and federal forests. Investigating these grows can be extremely dangerous for law enforcement officers and we are grateful for their work investigating this illegal activity on public land.” – CSLEA President Alan Barcelona
SACRAMENTO— On March 9, 2023, Agustin Cruz-Sanchez, 34, of Mexico, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution to the United States for conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and depredation of public lands and resources.
According to court documents, from April to August 2018, Cruz-Sanchez lived and worked at an illegal marijuana grow site in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, along with co-defendant Abraham De Los Santos-Sanchez. Beginning on Aug. 17, 2018, law enforcement officers executed a search of the grow and eradicated 6,575 marijuana plants, a marijuana processing area, and harvested marijuana. The marijuana had an estimated street value of more than $1.5 million. Cruz-Sanchez and Santos-Sanchez expected to share in those profits, along with the off-site leader of the operation, Fidel Sanchez-Cruz.
During the search and reclamation of the grow site, law enforcement officers found a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun with an obliterated serial number, pellet rifles, a loaded Smith & Wesson magazine, and a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson ammunition cartridge in front of Cruz-Sanchez’s tent. The handgun was found along the route that Cruz-Sanchez fled from law enforcement during the search of the grow site, before he was apprehended and arrested. Photographs and videos found on Cruz-Sanchez’s cellphone showed him and Santos-Sanchez posing with the handgun and pellet rifle in the marijuana fields and touting their ability to protect the grow with the weapons.
Environmental scientists found and documented extensive environmental damage, including the use and disposal of bottles of pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals. The hazardous wastes found at the grow site included carbofuran, a toxic pesticide that is banned in the United States. The environmental assessment concluded that the carbofuran and other pesticides and fertilizer at the grow site likely posed a significant direct risk to a number of endangered and threatened species, including the northern spotted owl, the foothill yellow-legged frog, and coho salmon. Makeshift reservoirs and a large network of plastic irrigation lines were also found and eradicated. The environmental assessment concluded that more than 14.25 million gallons of water were illegally diverted at the grow site.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the California Highway Patrol, the California Department of Justice – North State Marijuana Investigation Team, the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office, the Tehama County Sheriff’s Office, the Corning Police Department, and the Red Bluff Police Department.
Santos-Sanchez pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and on June 18, 2020, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
On May 19, 2022, Fidel Sanchez-Cruz pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture marijuana, manufacture of marijuana, and depredation of public lands and resources. Sanchez-Cruz is scheduled to be sentenced on March 23, 2023. Sanchez-Cruz faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum statutory penalty of life in prison and a $10 million fine.