OCT 1 (FRESNO, Calif.) —Two of nine defendants charged in connection with a large marijuana cultivation operation in Alpaugh, Calif., pleaded guilty today to participating in a drug conspiracy, Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Anthony D. Williams and U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
Ezidoro Hurtado-Cerillos, 37, a citizen of Mexico, and his wife, Ernestina Villareal-Guerrero, 34, of Fresno, pleaded guilty to conspiring to grow, distribute, and possess marijuana with intent to distribute. According to court records, both defendants were found growing marijuana on a 20-acre parcel of agricultural land in the small farming community of Alpaugh in Tulare County. Law enforcement officers seized over 4,000 marijuana plants and several firearms from the property, which was owned and occupied by Saul Morales, 47, and his wife, Juliana Garcia-Torres, 53, who are also charged.
Hurtado-Cerillos and Villareal-Guerrero are scheduled for sentencing before U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill on December 17, 2012. They face a sentence of 10 years to life in prison and a $10 million fine. Hurtado-Cerillos is subject to deportation upon completion of any sentence that is imposed. The actual sentences, 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.
The remaining seven co-defendants are scheduled for a status conference in federal court in Fresno on October 15, 2012. The allegations in the indictment are mere accusations and all persons are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives provided critical follow-up under the umbrella of Operation Mercury, a six-county law enforcement initiative focusing on marijuana cultivation operations on agricultural land. Assistant United States Attorney Karen Escobar is prosecuting the case.