By Shannon Rapose
Kern Valley Sun
Weldon resident, 69 year old Russel Lee Riggs, was sentenced on Monday, September 25, to five years in prison for conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana grown in the Sequoia National Forest.
According to a news release, Riggs plead guilty in June to delivering supplies and material to a marijuana cultivation site with more than 3,000 marijuana plants in the Fay Creek drainage in the Sequoia National Forest. The release also stated that he received and removed processed marijuana from the site.
Unfortunately, springs were dammed and diverted to irrigate the multiple marijuana plants and large amounts of trash were scattered throughout the area, including in a flowing stream. These activities caused extensive damage to the land and natural resources. Fay Creek supports a variety of ecosystems and resources, including riparian habitat supporting trout, wildflowers and grasses, and willow, alder and cottonwood trees. It also serves as the primary drinking water source for many wildlife in the area.
During follow-up searches of Riggs’ residence and that of co defendant, Juan Penaloza-Ramirez, 46, law enforcement officers also seized marijuana cultivation equipment and supplies, 16 firearms and over 2,000 rounds of ammunition at the site.
Riggs was also ordered to pay $1,719.31 to the U.S. Forest Service for the damages done to public land and natural resources by the marijuana cultivation activities. He was also ordered to forfeit the seized firearms and ammunition by U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd.
Penaloza-Ramirez plead guilty in June and was sentenced to seven years and three months in prison.
The U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Southern Tri-County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) task force, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California Department of Justice’s Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), and the Kern County Sheriff’s Office were all involved in the investigation while Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Escobar prosecuted the case.