A marijuana trafficker with grows in multiple counties was sentenced to 17 and a half years in prison Monday.
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Uriel Ochoa-Espindola, 44, of Fresno, was the leader of a massive marijuana manufacturing operation and an interstate drug distribution ring, a press release from U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced. He and his partners grew tens of thousands of plants in El Dorado County, Tehama County and Placer County and were based near Delhi. The product was shipped with the aid of commercial truckers.
Hundreds of pounds of marijuana were shipped to South Dakota, Colorado, Massachusetts, Washington and North Carolina, personally overseen by Espindola, who was also in charge of 10 other men. Espindola “made key decisions, assigned jobs and organized deals,” the press release stated.
U.S. District Judge William B. Shubb said that the man ran a “very serious operation,” citing his leadership role on impact of the sentencing.
Three handguns and nearly 11,000 marijuana plants were seized from El Dorado County. A Placer County site saw 17,500 plants seized and 2,000 plants were seized in Tehama County.
Due to the size of the operation, “middle managers” were used. One, Valentine Ramirez-Cardinez, was sentenced to 15 years, 8 months in prison for managing grow sites.” He told undercover agents that he would bring a .22 caliber rifle to the Placer County grow site. Five other firearms were found at his house when he was arrested, and he earlier provided an undercover officer with an AK-47, which the officer was supposed to pay for later.
“These middle managers helped protect and isolate Espindola from possible law enforcement contact,” the press release states.
After 300 pounds of marijuana was seized in Chicago, Epsindola put Ramirez-Cardinez in charge in an attempt to separate himself from undercover agents.
Court documents call Espindola “one of the largest marijuana traffickers in Northern California.” A shotgun was found at his home.
During testimony at an evidentiary hearing, a special agent with the Department of Justice said that three handguns, three AK-47 rifles, two M-16/M-4 rifles, four shotguns and one rifle had also been found at an address on Rowland Lane in Corning. One of Espindola’s lieutenants would load a truck in connection with one of the cross-country shipments at the residence.
“This was his operation,” Shubb said of Espindola, despite the defense’s claim to the contrary. The judge held Espindola accountable for all the weapons he and his workers used in furthering their operation.
The investigation of the case was done by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office, Placer County Sheriff’s Office, the California Department of Justice Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement and the Mountain and Valley Marijuana Investigation Team. The court case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Michael M. Beckwith.