SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – A man considered one of the largest marijuana traffickers in Northern California has been sentenced to more than 17 years in prison Monday, U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner announced.
U.S. District Judge William Shubb sentenced 44-year-old Uriel Ochoa-Espindola to 17.5 years in prison for growing tens of thousands of marijuana plants in three different counties in California with his partners and shipping the product across the country with the help of commercial trucks, according to court documents.
“This was his operation,” Judge Shubb noted, holding Espindola responsible for the weapons his partners and workers used to run their operation.
Headquartered near New Delhi, Calif., Espindola reportedly had operations in El Dorado County, Tehama County and Placer County. He had 10 men under his command.
Espindola allegedly organized and directed hundreds of pounds of shipments to South Dakota, Colorado, Massachusetts, Washington and North Carolina.
Investigators seized three handguns and nearly 11,000 marijuana plants at the El Dorado County grow site, court documents revealed. Nearly 17,500 marijuana plants were also seized from the Placer County grow site as well as nearly 2,000 marijuana plants at the Tehama County grow site.
Espindola used middle-managers at the grow sites who protected him from possible law enforcement contact.
Middle-manager Valentine Ramirez-Cardinez was sentenced to more than 15 years in prison for managing grow sites. Investigators found five firearms at Ramirez-Cardinez’s house when he was arrested. Earlier, Ramirez-Cardinez gave one of the undercover officers an AK-47 rifle, which the officer was to pay for at a later time.
Investigators also found three handguns, three AK-47 rifles, two M-16/M-4 rifles, four shotguns and one rifle at a house in Corning, Calif., that was used in connection with cross-country shipments.