News Release
August 14, 2008
For Information Contact,
Special Agent Ramona Sanchez
Public Information Officer
(602) 664-5725

Cultivating Marijuana in The Tonto National Forest
Nets Defendant 10 Years in Federal Prison
Over 7000 marijuana plants seized

AUG 14 -- PHOENIX – Elizabeth W. Kempshall, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s Phoenix Field Division joined Diane J. Humetewa, U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, to announce the sentencing of Jose Tapia Varelas. Varelas, 23, of Coalcoman, Michoacan, Mexico, was sentenced here yesterday to 10 years in federal prison by U.S. District Judge Earl H. Carroll. Varelas pleaded guilty on April 15, 2008, to the charge of Conspiracy to Cultivate More Than 1,000 Marijuana Plants on National Forest Lands.

An investigation into Varelas’ activities which began in August of 2006 and ended in

October of 2007, led to the discovery of two marijuana cultivation areas near Gold Creek Canyon and Hinton Canyon in the Tonto National Forest within Gila County, Ariz. These cultivation areas were located in remote canyon areas of the forest more than 200 yards from forest service roads. Varelas was observed traveling between the cultivation areas and Phoenix, delivering food and cultivation supplies to workers who stayed in the remote grow sites for months at a time. He was also observed transporting harvested marijuana out of the forest. Law enforcement officers eradicated over 7,000 marijuana plants from the two cultivation areas. Varelas’ sentence was enhanced because he possessed a firearm in connection with the cultivation conspiracy.

The investigation in this case was conducted by the U.S. Forest Service, the Gila County Narcotics Task Force, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Phoenix Police Department. The prosecution was handled by Glenn McCormick, Assistant, U.S. Attorney, District of Arizona, Phoenix.

# # #