“Illegally growing marijuana on public land is not a victimless crime. It’s a threat to public safety, and to our soil, water, fish and wildlife. In addition, law enforcement officers who search these illegal sites face great danger as they often encounter individuals who are armed to protect their grows.” – CSLEA President Alan Barcelona
SACRAMENTO— On July 13, 2023, Fidel Sanchez-Cruz, 42, of Mexico, was sentenced to 11 years and three months in prison and ordered to pay $19,354 in restitution to the United States, for conspiracy to grow marijuana in the National Forest and depredation of public lands and resources.
According to court documents, Sanchez-Cruz was the leader and organizer of a marijuana grow operation in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest near Highway 36 in Trinity County. In August 2018, law enforcement officers executed a search of the grow site and eradicated 6,575 marijuana plants, a marijuana processing area, and harvested marijuana. Sanchez-Cruz oversaw the operation from a distance, while co-defendants Abraham De Los Santos-Sanchez and Agustin Cruz-Sanchez lived at the grow site from April to August 2018. Sanchez-Cruz made brief visits to the grow site at strategic times, including during planting season and at harvest time to inspect the marijuana crop, drop off supplies, and provide instructions to the workers during the grow season.
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 were found at the site.
The environmental damage to the forest was analyzed and documented. According to the environmental assessment report, 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.
Law enforcement also searched Sanchez-Cruz’s residence in Corning, on Aug. 17, 2018, and found two baggies with about 24 grams of cocaine, five bags of processed marijuana weighing a total of about 3.96 pounds, a digital scale, packaging materials, three bags of marijuana seeds, cultivation tools, and a Winchester 20-gauge shotgun.
This case was the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service with assistance from 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. Assistant U.S. Attorney David W. Spencer prosecuted the case.
Santos-Sanchez pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and on June 18, 2020, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Cruz-Sanchez pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and depredation of public lands and resources and on March 9, 2023, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.