Mexican National Sentenced for Toxic Marijuana Cultivation Operation in Stanislaus National Forest in Tuolumne County, California and Ordered to Pay for Environmental Damage – Over 9,000 Plants

Credit: NIDA

August 19, 2021 – FRESNO, Calif. — Eleno Fernandez-Garcia, 37, of Michoacán, Mexico, was sentenced today to 4 and a half years in prison for conspiring to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute marijuana and ordered to pay $45,688 in restitution to the U.S. Forest Service for the environmental damage that the toxic chemicals and cultivation operation had on public land, Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

According to court documents, the cultivation operation contained 9,654 marijuana plants and was located in the Basin Creek drainage in the Stanislaus National Forest in Tuolumne County. Fernandez was found at the grow site in possession of pruning shears and two cellphones, and was covered with marijuana debris. Three other individuals fled from the area, which is near recreational activities and Sugar Pine Springs, a natural spring used by two companies for bottled water.

The cultivation operation caused significant damage to the environment. Within the grow site, investigative agents found the pesticide Weevelcide, which contains aluminum phosphide, a lethal restricted use chemical; two types of rodenticides; 837 pounds of soluble fertilizer; 45.65 gallons of liquid fertilizer; and a dead raccoon. Nearly all of the native vegetation was cut down to make room for the marijuana plants. Besides chemicals and fertilizer, there was over 2,000 pounds of trash and irrigation tubing.

The grow site was in a grazing permit area where cows roamed freely and had access to the plants and chemicals. The Basin Creek complex also lies upstream of several species of conservation concern, including the Central Valley steelhead, federally threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA); chinook salmon, federally threatened under the ESA; and yellow-legged frog, a candidate for listing as threatened under both the federal and the California ESA.

This case was the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) of the California Department of Justice, and the California Fish and Wildlife. Assistance was provided by the Integral Ecology Research Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to the research and conservation of wildlife and their ecosystems. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar prosecuted the case.
Source: DOJ Release

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