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Man convicted in large national forest marijuana grow operation
by Tribune Staff
Mar 03, 2011 | 1645 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
SACRAMENTO — United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced Wednesday that 47-year-old Bay Area resident Patricio Garcia Reyes, also known as Agustin Vasquez Garcia, was convicted of conspiracy to grow marijuana and of carrying a firearm in a drug trafficking offense. The guilty verdict was returned by a federal jury in Sacramento after a two-day trial before United States District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller.

This case is the result of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service and the Alpine County Sheriff’s Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard J. Bender is prosecuting the case.

According to testimony presented at trial, the defendant was arrested on Aug.11, watering plants in a large marijuana grow site for more than 5,000 plants in a remote area of the National Forest  in Alpine County, Calif. The grow operation was discovered during aircraft fly-overs of the area during fire suppression efforts in a nearby forest fire. A team of U.S. Forest Service and Alpine County Sheriff’s Deputies went into the site to investigate the grow operation and located the defendant. At the time of his arrest, Reyes was armed with a .9 mm Beretta semi-automatic handgun and more than 50 rounds of ammunition. An illegal campsite at the grow location showed that three or four persons had likely been working at the site. It was estimated that each plant would have produced about 1 pound of marijuana when mature, with a street value of about $5 million. However, the plants were about a month away from maturity when located and eradicated.

U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement Officers with experience in planning and executing the clean up of these marijuana grow sites on forest service property estimated the eventual cost to clean up the trash and materials left behind, including removal of an earthen stream dam, campsite, thousands of feet of irrigation hose and debris, to be about $40,000. Because of the remote location of the site and rugged terrain, helicopters must be used to bring out much of the material.

The defendant is scheduled to be sentenced by Mueller at 10 a.m. May 19. While the maximum penalty is life in prison, the actual sentence will be determined at the discretion of the judge after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables. Garciat faces a statutory mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison on a marijuana conspiracy charge and a mandatory consecutive five years in prison on a gun charge.
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