- Special Sections
Federal prosecutors announced earlier this week that the first of several subjects arrested in association with a large-scale marijuana grow northwest of Lone Pine last year has pleaded guilty.
On Tuesday, Javier Rios Morales, 25, of Jalisco, Mexico, pleaded guilty to conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute 3,405 marijuana plants and 350 pounds of processed marijuana seized from a grow site in the Inyo National Forest, announced United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner.
Local law enforcement, with the aid of numerous state and federal agencies, raided a massive marijuana grow site last August, seizing 3,405 marijuana plants, 350 pounds of processed marijuana, digital scales, highly toxic and illegal rodenticides, and 2,200 pounds of trash from the Hogback Creek grow site.
In pleading guilty, Morales agreed to pay $6,572.14 to the U.S. Forest Service for removal and dumping fees associated with eradication of the site.
Those arrests at Hogback included German Ortiz Guzman, 22, of Bakersfield; Antonio Suastegui, 34, of Bakersfield; Lorenzo Perez-Meza, 44, of Bakersfield; Refugio Guzman, 49, of Bakersfield; Jesus Solis Jr., 19, of Garden Grove; Isaac Duran-Solis, 41, of Bakersfield; and Morales.
A follow-up investigation led authorities to Southern California, where more marijuana, a methamphetamine lab and meth was confiscated, and several more arrests were made.
According to court documents, U.S. Forest Service agents found the grow site in the Hogback Creek area and set up trail cameras that photographed Rios making supply drops at a drop point to the site. According to a press release from the DOJ, Rios also picked up processed marijuana from the site.
Authorities were able to track one of the load vehicles to â€śseveral stash houses in Riverside County.â€ť
Ultimately, agents executed four search warrants â€“ one at the grow site and three at residences in Riverside County.
Agents in Riverside County seized two pounds of methamphetamine, a methamphetamine laboratory, five firearms, $10,000 in cash and two pounds of weed from a residence in Moreno Valley.
Agents seized another 450 marijuana plants and marijuana cultivation at a stash house in Homeland.
At another stash house in Romoland, authorities confiscated a firearm, marijuana â€śshakeâ€ť and residue and shipping labels consistent with the shipment of marijuana to Chicago.
Department of Justice spokesperson Lauren Horwood said Thursday that the DOJ is prosecuting three people in connection with the grow site and the related crimes. In addition to Morales, the DOJ has filed charges against Jose Agular Fantoyo and Jose Salvador Garcia Rodriguez, both of whom were apprehended in Southern California. She said Morales is the only one who has pleaded guilty to the charges.
The other subjects who were arrested in connection to the marijuana farm and resulting investigations have been turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Horwood said.
Morales is scheduled for sentencing on April 14, by United States District Judge Lawrence J. Oâ€™Neill. He faces a sentence of five years to 40 years in prison and a $5 million fine. He is also subject to deportation to Mexico, upon completion of any prison term.
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.
This case was the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcementâ€™s Homeland Security Investigations, Inyo County Sheriffâ€™s Office and the Riverside County Sheriffâ€™s Office. Assistant United States Attorney Karen A. Escobar is prosecuting the case.