Leader of Marijuana Grow Operation in Shasta Trinity National Forest Sentenced to Over 11 Years in Prison

Fidel Sanchez-Cruz, a 42-year-old Mexican national, received a sentence of 11 years and three months in prison, along with a restitution order of $19,354 to the United States. U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert made the announcement on Thursday, following Sanchez-Cruz’s conviction for conspiracy to grow marijuana in the National Forest and the depredation of public lands and resources.

According to court documents, Sanchez-Cruz was the mastermind behind a large-scale marijuana cultivation operation in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest near Highway 36 in Trinity County. In August 2018, law enforcement officials conducted a thorough search of the grow site, leading to the eradication of 6,575 marijuana plants, a marijuana processing area, and harvested marijuana. While co-defendants Abraham De Los Santos-Sanchez and Agustin Cruz-Sanchez resided at the site from April to August 2018, Sanchez-Cruz managed the operation from a distance. He made strategic visits during planting and harvest seasons to oversee the crop, provide instructions to workers, and supply necessary resources.

During the search, authorities discovered several items, including a .40 caliber Smith & Wesson handgun with an obliterated serial number, pellet rifles, a loaded Smith & Wesson magazine, and a .40 caliber Smith & Wesson ammunition cartridge.

The environmental impact of the grow site was evaluated by the Integral Ecology Research Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and study of wildlife and ecosystems. Their environmental assessment report highlighted extensive damage, such as the use and improper disposal of pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals. Among the hazardous substances found was carbofuran, a banned toxic pesticide in the United States.

The report also identified a significant direct risk to endangered and threatened species, including the northern spotted owl, the foothill-yellow-legged frog, and coho salmon, due to the presence of carbofuran and other pesticides and fertilizers. Additionally, makeshift reservoirs and a network of plastic irrigation lines were dismantled, and it was determined that more than 14.25 million gallons of water had been illegally diverted at the site.

On August 17, 2018, law enforcement officers conducted a search of Sanchez-Cruz’s residence in Corning, where they discovered two baggies containing approximately 24 grams of cocaine, five bags of processed marijuana weighing approximately 3.96 pounds, a digital scale, packaging materials, three bags of marijuana seeds, cultivation tools, and a Winchester 20-gauge shotgun.

The investigation leading to the arrest and conviction of Sanchez-Cruz was a collaborative effort involving the U.S. Forest Service, supported by agencies such as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the California Highway Patrol, the California Department of Justice – North State Marijuana Investigation Team, the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office, the Tehama County Sheriff’s Office, the Corning Police Department, and the Red Bluff Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney David W. Spencer handled the prosecution.

Sanchez-Cruz’s co-defendants, Santos-Sanchez and Cruz-Sanchez, had previously pleaded guilty to their involvement in the conspiracy. Santos-Sanchez was sentenced to 10 years in prison on June 18, 2020, for conspiracy to manufacture marijuana, while Cruz-Sanchez received a 10-year prison sentence on March 9, 2023, for conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and depredation of public lands and resources.

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