AUG 26 (FRESNO, Calif.) – Gerardo Morales, 23, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to cultivate, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana grown on a 20-acre agricultural parcel in Alpaugh, Acting Special Agent in Charge Bruce C. Balzano and U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
According to court documents, on May 31, 2012, Tulare County Sheriff’s Office narcotics detectives arrested Morales and his parents, Juliana Garcia Torres, 55, and Saul Morales, 48, and five others following the execution of a search warrant at property owned by Morales. The detectives also seized a total of 4,011 marijuana plants growing in 14 separate plywood-enclosed plots. In pleading guilty, Gerardo Morales admitted to growing marijuana plants from seed which he bought. He also said he was the only person who trimmed the plants.
Gerardo Morales is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill on November 18, 2013. Garcia Torres has pleaded guilty and is scheduled for sentencing on October 28, 2013. They face a mandatory minimum prison term of 10 years in prison, a maximum term of life and a fine of up to $10 million. Garcia Torres also faces deportation upon completion of her prison sentence. The other five individuals who were arrested have entered guilty pleas for their involvement in the cultivation operation. The 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.
Morales has a jury trial set for October 2013. The charges are only allegations; the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
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), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office. The case was also investigated under the umbrella of Operation Mercury, an intensive marijuana eradication and enforcement effort initiated in 2012 by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in six counties to address the increasing problem of the cultivation of marijuana on agricultural land. To date, Operation Mercury has resulted in the seizure of nearly half a million marijuana plants and the prosecution of 84 defendants in federal court in Fresno.Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar is prosecuting the case.