Two men busted during an investigation into a $47.8 million pot operation in Atwater have been indicted on federal charges for allegedly growing the illicit crop.
A grand jury on Thursday returned a three-count indictment charging Juvenal Paredes Sanchez, 36, and Jose Miguel Lizarraga Lopez, 22, on suspicion of conspiring to cultivate marijuana, cultivating marijuana and possessing marijuana with intent to distribute, according to Lauren Horwood, spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner, Eastern District of California.
The pair was arrested Aug. 28 after agents with the Merced/Mariposa High Intensity Drug Task Force found around 47,800 pot plants in a cornfield located in the 8000 block of Atwater Jordan Road.
Agents searched inside a cinder block building about 600 square feet in size, next to the eight-acre corn field, where they found evidence of marijuana cultivation inside the building, according to Merced County sheriff's spokesman Deputy Tom MacKenzie.
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In addition, the marijuana was planted parallel with the corn, in between the individual stalks, so it couldn't be spotted from the air, MacKenzie said. The plants ranged from small starter plants a few inches tall to plants that were several feet tall, with an average street value of $1,000 a plant when harvested at maturity.
Inside the building, agents also found evidence of a makeshift camp where workers would stay while tending the garden. During the bust a pit bull/labrador mix dog was shot to death after it charged at a sheriff's sergeant.
Both men are illegal immigrants. If convicted, they face 10 years to life in prison, in addition to a $4 million fine.
The Merced/Mariposa HIDTA Task Force is comprised of members of Merced County Sheriff's Office. Mariposa County Sheriff's Office, California Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, California State Parole and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
The marijuana bust was the largest reported in Merced County this year.
Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.