Guatemalan Man Pleads Guilty to Marijuana Cultivation Operation in Sequoia National Forest

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FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the United States Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C.

FRESNO, Calif. — Oscar Alfredo Castanaza Ortega, 37, a native of Guatemala, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to cultivate with intent to distribute 2,864 marijuana plants in the Twin Springs area of the Sequoia National Forest, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

According to court documents, when law enforcement officers arrived in the grow site, Castanaza fled, throwing down a loaded .38‑caliber firearm and a box of .38‑caliber ammunition, before he was apprehended. Castanaza acknowledged that he was getting paid $100 a day to water and trim the plants.

The marijuana cultivation operation caused significant damage to the land and natural resources. Native trees, brush and other vegetation were cut down and large amounts of fertilizers and pesticides were found in the area. Thousands of pounds of trash, irrigation hose, and camping equipment were found at the site that must be removed by helicopter. Castanaza agreed to pay $7,819 in restitution to the U.S. Forest Service for the environmental damage.

This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service with assistance from the California Department of Justice’s Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), and Tulare County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar is prosecuting the case.

Castanaza is scheduled for sentencing on Oct. 28, 2022 before U.S. District Judge Jennifer L. Thurston. He faces a mandatory minimum statutory penalty of 10 years and a maximum penalty of life in prison, as well as a fine up to $10 million. Any sentence, however, would 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.

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