Mexican National, Lester Eduardo Cardenas Pleads Guilty to Marijuana Cultivation in the Dutch Oven Creek Area of the Sierra National Forest
FRESNO, CA (STL.News) Lester Eduardo Cardenas Flores, 24, of Michoacán, 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 $48,057 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 2,307 marijuana plants and was located in the Basin Creek drainage in the Dutch Oven Creek area of the Sierra National Forest. Cardenas and his co-defendant, Luis Madrigal Reyes, 37, also of Michoacán, Mexico, were apprehended at the grow site during the execution of a search warrant.
The cultivation operation caused extensive environmental damage, which serves as the habitat for the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog, an endangered species and the California spotted owl. Agents found lethal banned pesticides, which appeared to have been applied to the marijuana plants. The water from Dutch Oven Creek had also been diverted to irrigate the marijuana plants. Dutch Oven Creek is part of the Chiquito Creek watershed, which drains into the Fresno River before flowing into the San Joaquin River.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, 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 Integral Ecology Research Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to the research and conservation of wildlife and their ecosystems, assisted. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar is prosecuting the case.
Cardenas is scheduled for sentencing on Nov. 15, 2021. Madrigal previously entered a guilty plea and is scheduled for sentencing on Sept. 20, 2021. They face 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.