A federal grand jury returned a four-count indictment against Alan Fernando Gomez-Paniagua, 25, a citizen of Mexico residing in Delano, charging him with conspiring to cultivate, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute marijuana, cultivating marijuana, damaging public land and natural resources, and being an alien in possession of a firearm, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.
According to court documents, Gomez-Paniagua was connected to a marijuana cultivation site in the McFarland Creek area in the Sequoia National Forest. At the grow site, officers found over 15,000 marijuana plants, over 1,000 marijuana seedlings, and a loaded short-barreled shotgun with a pistol grip.
The marijuana cultivation activities caused extensive damage to the environment. Numerous oak trees had been cut down and the hillside was terraced to make room for the marijuana plants. Pesticide containers and trash were strewn throughout the site.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Southern Tri-County Central Valley California High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task Force, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, and the California Multijurisdictional Methamphetamine Enforcement Team (CalMMET), a task force administered by the Kern County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant United States Attorney Karen A. Escobar is prosecuting the case.
Gomez-Paniagua was arraigned in federal court in Fresno on May 8. If convicted of the most serious offenses, the drug charges, Gomez-Paniagua faces a mandatory minimum prison term of 10 years and a maximum term of life, along with a $10 million fine. Any sentence, however, would 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. The charges are only allegations; the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.