FRESNO, CA — United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner, Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Anthony D. Williams, and Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims announced that Bounepheng Savongsy, 50, of Fresno, and Ernson Merisier, 27, of Holbrook, Mass., pleaded guilty today to one count each of conspiring to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute marijuana.
U.S. Attorney Wagner said, “This case is a prime example of what law enforcement in California sees all too often – marijuana that is grown in this state purportedly for use by sick people being transported out of state for profit. That isn’t providing medicine. It’s drug dealing.”
According to court documents, Merisier admitted that he and his co-defendants, Marquis Allen Meca, 27, of New Bedford, Mass. and Ruddys A. Pimentel, 29, of Roslindale, Mass., received marijuana that was grown in Fresno under the guise of being “medicinal” for distribution in Massachusetts. According to court documents, the marijuana was grown in agricultural fields in Fresno that were posted with medicinal marijuana recommendations from two local doctors. Rather than distributing the marijuana in California for medicinal purposes, however, Savongsy and co-defendants Phousangkhy Phanthadeth, aka “Phou,” 38, and Manop Souksavath, 38, both of Fresno, conspired to ship the marijuana to Merisier, Meca, and Pimentel in the Boston area, where the drug was sold for about $3,000 per pound, about three times what it sells for in California. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has not legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes.
According to the plea agreements, on November 4, 2010, Phanthadeth and Souksavath were arrested in Utah following a traffic stop of their vehicle, which contained about 184 pounds of the Fresno-grown marijuana. Law enforcement officials then supervised the delivery of the marijuana to Merisier, Meca, and Pimentel in Roslindale, Mass.
Merisier paid nearly $75,000 in cash as partial payment for the total price - $570,400 – of the marijuana. The defendants were then arrested and searches in Fresno, Cedar City, Utah, and Roslindale, Mass. resulted in the seizure of approximately 4,620 live marijuana plants, approximately 3,563 pounds of processed marijuana, 11 firearms, one 2006 Dodge Charger, and approximately $113,151 in cash.
In connection with the execution of one of six federal search warrants obtained in this case, agents also arrested Douangchanh Keovilayvanh, 40, of Sanger, Calif., who has been charged in a separate federal indictment with possessing marijuana with intent to distribute and being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.
Savongsy and Merisier are scheduled for sentencing on December 2, 2011 by United States District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill. They face a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Souksavath and Phanthadeth have also entered guilty pleas and are scheduled for sentencing on September 23 and October 21, 2011, respectively. They face at least five years in prison, a maximum prison term of life, and a fine of up to $4 million. Their actual sentences, 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.
The remaining two defendants are in federal custody and detained without bail. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory sentencing factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.
This case is the product of an extensive investigation by the DEA offices in Fresno, Salt Lake City, and Boston, and the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, California Department of Justice Central Valley Marijuana Investigation Team, Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, Utah Highway Patrol, Boston Police Department, and North Attleboro Police Department. Assistant United States Attorney Karen A. Escobar is prosecuting the case.