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Feds indict six for local marijuana operation
FRESNO — Six defendants were indicted Thursday for their involvement in a large marijuana cultivation operation in Terra Bella in Tulare County, U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
The indictment charges the following defendants with narcotics offenses: Baltazar Rodriguez, 43; his son, Jose Guadalupe Rodriguez, 18; Carlos Adan Lupian-Lua, 24; Jose Guadalupe Zavala-Ramos, 32; Juan Carlos Perez-Gonzales, 43; all of Michoacán, Mexico; and Hector Quintero-Mercado, 34, of Jalisco, Mexico.
They are charged with conspiring to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute marijuana, manufacturing marijuana and possessing marijuana with intent to distribute. Lupian-Lua, Zavala-Ramos, Perez-Gonzales, and Quintero-Mercado are also charged with immigration offences.
According to court records, law enforcement officers seized 1,313 marijuana plants from 39.6 acres of farm land in Terra Bella rented by Baltazar Rodriguez, where he resided with his family, including his son Jose Rodriguez. Inside the residence, officers found a loaded handgun in Baltazar Rodriguez’s bedroom, a digital scale, and documents showing wire transfers of cash to Mexico. On the property, officers also found a trailer where Quintero-Mercado was living.
Authorities raided the illegal grow site in the 9800 block of Road 256, Terra Bella, on Aug. 22. The raid ended a three-month investigation into marijuana grow sites with the serving of the Federal search warrant.
The warrant enabled the officers to eradicate any plants found at the Terra Bella site, which is tied to a large grow site that had been discovered earlier this month in the Sequoia National Forest.
That site, located at the bottom of a steep mountain, just a few miles from the SCICON campus, held over 4,000 nearly mature marijuana plants which were eradicated by Sheriff’s and Forest Service personnel on Aug. 1.
If convicted of the drug charges, the defendants face a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison and a $10 million fine. Avoiding immigration officers carries a maximum prison term of six months and a fine of $5,000 for a first offense and two years in custody and a fine of $250,000 for a second offense.
Lupian-Lua, Zavala-Ramos, Perez-Gonzales, Quintero-Mercado and Baltazar Rodriguez, who is originally from Guanajuato, Mexico, are also subject to deportation, if convicted of one or more of the charges.
A federal magistrate judge has detained all of the defendants, except Jose Rodriguez, after finding they posed a flight risk or danger to the community. The defendants are scheduled for arraignment on Wednesday in federal court in Fresno.
The 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), and the Sheriff’s departments of Tulare and Ventura counties. Assistant United States Attorney Karen Escobar is prosecuting the case.