Drug Enforcement Administration

San Francisco

Christopher Nielsen, Special Agent in Charge

January 31, 2013

Contact: Casey Rettig

Phone Number: (415) 436-7994

Kern County Drug Traffickers Indicted

FRESNO, Calif. - Two federal indictments were returned today in two separate cases originating from Kern County involving large quantities of controlled substances, Drug Enforcement Administration Acting Special Agent in Charge Bruce C. Balzano and U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

Methamphetamine, Heroin, and Cocaine Case

In the first case, Miguel Sanchez Mendoza, aka Miguel Morales Garcia, 45, and Gamaliel Salas Mendoza, aka Rene Salas Mendoza, 37, both of Durango, Mexico, were charged with conspiring to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine and three separate counts of possessing each of those drugs with intent to distribute. Salas Mendoza was also charged with being a deported alien found in the United States after conviction of one or more felonies and Sanchez Mendoza was charged with possessing unlawfully produced immigration documents, commonly known as “green cards.”

According to court documents, Kern County Sheriff’s deputies seized seven pounds of methamphetamine, one half pound of heroin, and one and a half pounds of cocaine from a residence in northeast Bakersfield where both men lived. They also found a kilogram press, hydraulic bottle jacks, cutting agents, digital scales, and other items used in the packaging and distribution of narcotics, along with $9,483 in cash.

If convicted, Salas Mendoza faces a sentence of ten years to life in prison and a $10 million fine. If convicted of the charges in today’s indictment, based on a prior felony drug conviction, Sanchez Mendoza faces 20 years to life in prison and a $20 million fine. Any sentence, however, would 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.

Both are in custody and are scheduled for arraignment on February 11 before a U.S. Magistrate Judge in Fresno. This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’(ICE) Homeland Security (HSI), and the Kern County Sheriff’s Department.

Marijuana Cultivation/Processing Operation Case

In the second case, Bernabe Hernandez, 52, of Arvin, was charged with conspiring to cultivate, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana, cultivating marijuana, and possessing marijuana with intent to distribute.

According to court documents, Hernandez is the owner of a 29-acre parcel in Lamont where Kern County Sheriff’s deputies found and seized 1,387 pounds of processed marijuana and 338 marijuana plants during the execution of a search warrant there last September. They also found scales, packaging material, and ammunition and seized $3,179 from Hernandez’s residence on the property.

If convicted, Hernandez faces five to forty years in prison and a $5 million fine. He is scheduled for arraignment on February 6 before a U.S. Magistrate Judge in Fresno.

This case is the product of an investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’(ICE) Homeland Security (HSI), and Kern County Sheriff’s Office. The investigation was conducted in conjunction with Operation Mercury, an initiative targeting large-scale rural marijuana growers in six counties in the Central Valley of California, which has resulted in the filing of federal charges against 82 defendants and the seizure of nearly half a million marijuana plants, primarily from agricultural lands, approximately 2,728.71 pounds of processed marijuana, 82 weapons, and over $100,000 in cash.

Assistant United States Attorney Karen Escobar is prosecuting these cases.
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