Mexican National, Eleno Fernandez-Garcia Pleads Guilty to Damaging Marijuana Cultivation Operation in Stanislaus National Forest in Tuolumne County
FRESNO, CA (STL.News) Eleno Fernandez-Garcia, 37, a citizen of Mexico, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute marijuana, Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced. He also agreed to pay $45,688 in restitution to the U.S. Forest Service for the damage that the cultivation operation had on public land.
According to court documents, the cultivation operation contained 9,654 marijuana plants and 200 pounds of processed marijuana 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 covered with marijuana debris. Three others fled from the area, which is near recreational activities and a natural spring used for bottled water.
The cultivation operation caused significant damage to the environment. Investigative agents found lethal restricted use chemicals (aluminum phosphide), fertilizer, and a dead raccoon at the grow site. Native vegetation was cut down to make room for the marijuana plants. Besides chemicals and fertilizer, there was a large amount 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.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) of the California Department of Justice. The Integral Ecology Research Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to the research and conservation of wildlife and their ecosystems, analyzed and documented the environmental damage. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar is prosecuting the case.
Fernandez-Garcia is scheduled for sentencing on Aug. 6. He faces a mandatory minimum statutory penalty of 10 years and a maximum penalty of life in prison, as well as a $10 million fine. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.