Local News

Monday, Aug 08 2011 05:40 PM

Marijuana grow suspect pleads guilty to conspiracy

BY JILL COWAN, Californian staff writer jcowan@bakersfield.com

A man charged with conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute thousands of marijuana plants cultivated in Kern County pleaded guilty Monday, a Department of Justice news release said.

Jesus Rodriguez Salcido, 23, of Jalisco, Mexico, along with two co-defendants, was involved in a marijuana grow located on federal land in the Piute Mountain area, court documents said.

Officials seized about 6,540 marijuana plants and about 407.8 grams of processed marijuana at the site. The three defendants possessed firearms and all tried to flee, the release said.

Ernesto Rocha, 21, of Bakersfield, and Marco Antonio Lopez-Florez, 34, a professional soccer player, also from Jalisco, both pleaded guilty and were each sentenced May 15 to 10 years in federal prison, the mandatory minimum according to federal guidelines.

Salcido is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 17.

Department of Justice spokeswoman Lauren Horwood said according to his indictment, Salcido was charged with five counts -- the first count being the conspiracy charge.

Counts two, three and four, she said, were related to the marijuana grow and the fifth count was for possession of a firearm.

Horwood said Salcido pleaded guilty to the first count, and that he would likely serve "considerably more time" if he were found guilty of the other charges, especially the possession of a firearm. As part of a plea agreement, she said, the other charges won't be prosecuted any further.

"They get credit for taking responsibility for their crimes, so they choose to do that rather than go to trial," she said. "We try a lot of these cases and the majority end up with a guilty plea."

While Salcido still faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, Horwood said that is highly unlikely, especially given his co-defendants' sentences.

Attorney Roger Litman, who is representing Salcido in this case, said his client hopes for a sentence that is less than the 10-year minimum, which is why Salcido's plea and sentencing have come later than those of his co-defendants.

"He's been of the opinion all along that the mandatory minimum sentence of 120 months was excessive given his limited involvement and that he was (at the grow site) for less time than his co-defendants," Litman said. "He was, I'll say, low man on the totem pole."

Litman said that "even taking into account the presence of a firearm," the guideline sentencing range for Salcido would be 70 to 87 months, had there not been more than 1,000 plants involved.

Litman said that to his knowledge, Salcido did not have any prior convictions.

Horwood said she could not comment on that; however, generally speaking, she said whether or not a defendant has prior convictions makes a difference to a judge.

According to the release, Salcido agreed to forfeit the firearms and make restitution to the Bureau of Land Management for damage to public land caused by his marijuana cultivation.

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