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WI: Marijuana Farms Found In National Forest Of Northeastern Wisconsin

August 14, 2010

A Cannabis sativa leaf.
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Associated Press / 11 August 2010 / Todd Richmond

Federal prosecutors charged eight men Wednesday with running multiple marijuana farms across a swath of national forest in northeastern Wisconsin following overnight raids.

The charges came just hours after more than 200 federal, state and local agents raided plots in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. They arrested six of the men at a home that investigators said had been transformed into a marijuana processing plant complete with a cache of guns.

Court documents filed late Wednesday said a single drug trafficking organization was overseeing marijuana growing operations and employing workers on multiple sites in the forest. The documents did not name the organization or elaborate on the men’s roles in it, though national forests and parks have become prime targets of Mexican drug gangs setting up expansive marijuana fields in the U.S. in recent years.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, drug agents around the country seized about a million plants a year between 2004 and 2008. In 2008 alone, agents seized or destroyed 7.6 million marijuana plants from about 20,000 illicit plots. In Wisconsin, the number of seized plants grew sixfold between 2003 and 2008, a year when more than 32,000 plants were seized.

The men arrested were Genaro Avila-Rodriguez, Adalberto Valencia, Salvador Montez-Canchola, Raul Juvenal Avila-Rodriguez, Jesus DelaTorre-Avila, Javier Navarro-Zaragoza, Gustavo Barragua-Mendoza and Jorge Omar Perez-Hipolito.

Each was charged with one count of conspiring to distribute and manufacture more than 1,000 marijuana plants, punishable by up to life in prison and a $4 million fine, and possession with intent to distribute more than 100 marijuana plants, punishable by up to 40 years in prison and $2 million in fines. Dressed in jeans and dirty T-shirts, the men sat silently in federal court in Green Bay on Wednesday as U.S. Magistrate Judge James R. Sickel read them their rights and set their next court appearance for Friday. An interpreter translated the judge’s remarks into Spanish for each of them.

Tom Phillip, an associate federal defender who represented Avila-Rodriguez and Valencia, called the government’s allegations “complicated” and said he would need time to work through them. Krista Halla-Valdes, another federal defender who represented the remaining six men, left the courtroom without speaking to reporters. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tammy Jo Hock declined to comment.

The U.S. Forest Service got a tip in May from someone who claimed to have seen two Hispanic men preparing a grow site in the Chequamegon-Nicolet forest. Investigators eventually found nine grow sites in the forest and other sites on the neighboring Menominee Indian Reservation. Investigators spent June and July watching the sites and access roads, and reported seeing groups of Hispanic men emerge from the forest and load pickups with sacks.

They tailed a truck to a home in Seymour, just west of Green Bay, that the men apparently used as a base, according to documents.

Investigators raided the home late Tuesday and found marijuana plants drying in the garage and laundry room, and marijuana buds drying in all the rooms of the house. They estimated they seized about 232 plants and 200 pounds of drying marijuana, the complaints said.

They also found industrial-sized backpack sprayers, handsaws, shears and fertilizer. In a bedroom was a stash of firearms, including an AK-47 assault rifle.

 

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