FRESNO, Calif. — Lester Eduardo Cardenas-Flores, 25, a native and citizen of Mexico, was sentenced today to two years and five months in prison for conspiring to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute marijuana, Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.
Cardenas was also ordered to pay $48,000 in restitution to the U.S. Forest Service for the extreme damage that the cultivation operation had on public land. Cardenas pleaded guilty on Aug. 24, 2021.
According to court documents, the cultivation operation consisted of 2,307 marijuana plants in the Sierra National Forest in Madera County. Cardenas was found carrying fertilizer into the grow site and later apprehended there. The cultivation operation caused significant damage to the area, which serves as habitat for the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog, an endangered species and the California spotted owl, which is currently being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Agents found deadly, banned pesticides sprayed directly on the plants.
The cultivation site was located in the Chiquito Creek watershed, which drains into the Fresno River before flowing into the San Joaquin River. Approximately 8.55 million gallons of water had been diverted from a nearby natural stream to irrigate the marijuana plants.
This case was the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) of the California Department of Justice, and the Madera County Sheriff’s Office. The environmental damage to the forest was analyzed and documented by 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.
Cardenas’s co-defendant, Luis Madrigal-Reyes, 37, also a native and citizen of Mexico, was sentenced on Oct. 18, 2021, to two years and five months in prison.