FEB 19 (FRESNO, Calif.) — The third of nine defendants charged in connection with a large marijuana cultivation operation in Alpaugh, was sentenced today to two years and six months in prison, Drug Enforcement Administration Acting Special Agent in Charge Bruce C. Balzano and U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill sentenced Eliazar, aka Eleazar, Castellanos Gutierrez, 27, of Colima, Mexico, for conspiring to cultivate, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute marijuana.
According to court documents, Castellanos was found growing marijuana on 20 acres of agricultural land in the small farming community of Alpaugh in Tulare County. Castellanos had paid $3,000 to the landowner to grow 899 marijuana plants purportedly for medical use. Castellanos admitted that he was “just using his medical marijuana recommendation to make money.” Law enforcement officers seized 4,011 marijuana plants and several firearms from the property that was owned and occupied by Saul Morales, 48, and his wife, Juliana Garcia Torres, 54, both of Alpaugh, who are also charged.
Castellanos, who is not lawfully present in the United States, is subject to deportation upon completion of his prison term.
The remaining defendants who have not entered guilty pleas are currently detained pretrial as a flight risk or danger to the community. They also appeared in federal court in Fresno today and requested additional time to resolve the matter. Their next court date is March 18, 2013. The allegations against them in the indictment are only 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 the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), and the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office. It is part of Operation Mercury, a six-county law enforcement initiative instituted last year that focused on marijuana cultivation operations on agricultural land. Assistant United States Attorney Karen Escobar is prosecuting the case.