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 Ernson Merisier, 27, of Holbrook, Mass.; Marquis Allen Meca, 27; and Ruddys A. Pimentel, 29, both of Roslindale, Mass., were sentenced Monday for a conspiracy to cultivate and distribute marijuana grown in Fresno under the guise of being “medicinal.” Merisier and Pimentel were each sentenced to 30 months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release, and Meca was sentenced to 24 months in prison to be followed by two years of supervised release.
They were sentenced on Monday following their guilty pleas in September 2011. According to their plea agreements, Merisier, Meca and Pimentel admitted that they had received marijuana worth over half a million dollars 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 cultivating the marijuana in California for strictly medical use, however, co-defendants Bounepheng Savongsy, 51; Phousangkhy Phanthadeth, aka Phou, 38; Manop Souksavath, 38; all 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 court documents, 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 about $66,000 in cash as partial payment for the total price — $570,400 — of the marijuana. The defendants were then arrested and law enforcement searches in locations 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.
Phanthadeth and Souksavath pleaded guilty and received prison sentences of five years and two years, respectively. Savongsy, who also pleaded guilty, is scheduled for sentencing before U.S. District Judge Lawrence O’Neill on January 23, 2012.
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. The agricultural parcel where Keovilayvanh resided is the subject of federal civil forfeiture proceedings. Keovilayvanh has requested a jury trial, which is scheduled for May 1, 2012. The charges are only allegations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Savongsy faces a maximum prison sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Keovilayvanh faces a minimum prison term of 10 years and a maximum prison term of life in prison, and a $4 million fine. 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.
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 criminal case, and Assistant United States Attorney Heather Jones is handling the forfeiture of the Sanger property.