DEA Helps Eradicate Marijuana Plants in Coconino National Forest
AUG 18 -- PHOENIX – The DEA, along with other federal, state and local authorities, is working to eradicate over 20,000 marijuana plants in the Coconino National Forest. This eradication marks the latest of three separate growing operations in the same area of Arizona since July 24, 2005. This latest cultivation has an estimated street value of over $30 million, making it one of the largest of its kind ever found in Arizona. This brings the total number of marijuana plants eradicated in Arizona in the past two months to approximately 100,000 plants – worth over $150 million.
DEA Special Agent in Charge Timothy J. Landrum stated, “This week law enforcement took down one of the most significant marijuana grow operations in Arizona history. International traffickers exploited a national park in our own backyard to cultivate thousands of marijuana plants hoping to line their pockets with millions in drug profits. Our eradication means that tons of marijuana never made it to our neighborhoods, and millions of dirty dollars never made it into the drug trade.”
Federal charges were filed against four individuals on Tuesday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. These charges culminated from a joint investigation by the Gila County Violent Crime, Narcotic and Gang Task Force (comprised of the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Gila County Sheriff’s Office), the U.S. Forest Service, , the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, the Flagstaff Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Southwest Region Special Operation Response Team consisting of National Wildlife Refuge Law Enforcement Officers also conducted surveillance activities and supported the take down of the marijuana grows. The eradication operation is still on-going.
The four individuals arrested and charged with Conspiracy to Manufacture Marijuana in violation of Title 21, U.S. Code 841(a)(1) are: Jesus Castillo-Malendrez, 31; Gerardo Manzo-Pulido, 19; Oscar Nunez-Medina, 40; and David Valencia-Gonzalez, 28, all of Mexico. Nunez-Medina was also charged with violating Title 18, U.S. Code 922(g), Possession of Ammunition that has Affected Interstate Commerce by an Alien not Lawfully Present in the United States. All four had their initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Aspey on August 16, 2005 in Flagstaff, Ariz. and will appear before Judge Aspey for their detention hearing and preliminary hearing at 10 a.m. on Thursday, August 18, 2005.
U.S. Attorney Paul K. Charlton said of this operation, “This was a monumental investigation and operation requiring and achieving the highest levels of cooperation from federal, state, and local officials. I applaud the exhausting efforts and professionalism exhibited by all these agencies in such an undertaking.”
"The large scale cultivation of marijuana on public lands is an increasing concern for the Forest Service," said Robin Poague, Forest Service Southwest Region Patrol Commander. "From armed farmers posing a hazard to people out recreating, to wide-scale environmental damage including large amounts of trash in our wilderness areas, these operations are a threat to the public good."
Gila County Sheriff John Armer stated that "This investigation demonstrates the success of the federal grant programs that provide funding for federal & state task forces statewide. In Arizona, those funds are administered by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission."
Roger Vanderpool, Director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety, added that, “I am proud of the accomplishments of the Gila County Violent Crime, Narcotic and Gang Task Force. This operation is an excellent example of how the cooperation among law enforcement agencies can impact the flow of illegal drugs into the communities of Arizona and throughout the country.”
The prosecution is being handled by Steven P. Logan, Assistant U.S. Attorney, District of Arizona, Phoenix.