A federal grand jury returned a three-count indictment Oct. 8 against Rich Xiongpao, 42, of Fresno, charging him with conspiring to manufacture marijuana, manufacturing marijuana in connection with a large-scale cultivation operation in a national forest, and depredation of public lands and resources, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
According to court documents, on Sept. 29, Xiongpao was arrested after he was observed by U.S. Forest Service agents tending a marijuana site in the Sierra National Forest in Madera County. Agents removed approximately 428 marijuana plants from the site.
According to the criminal complaint filed in this case, the damage to the national forest land and resources caused by the marijuana cultivation operation will exceed $1,000.
Throughout the site, multiple species of natural vegetation had been cut to accommodate the cultivation operation. Additionally, in order to water the marijuana cultivation, a water reservoir diverted the flow of pristine spring water from a riparian area to the site.
A large amount of trash, numerous containers of chemicals, fertilizers, and unknown substances were found throughout the area.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service. Assistant United States Attorney Daniel Griffin is prosecuting the case.
Xiongpao is scheduled to be arraigned on the indictment on Oct. 14, in federal court in Fresno.
If convicted of the drug offenses, Xiongpao faces a minimum statutory penalty of five years and a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison and a $5 million fine.
Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.
The charges are only allegations. The defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Department of Justice