Eleven arraigned in 3-state marijuana case

Eleven men and women accused of buying or leasing eight vineyards and an orchard in the Lower Valley to grow marijuana made their initial appearance in federal court Friday.  The suspects were part of a multistate bust Thursday involving 19 people, with the other eight suspects arrested in Oregon and California, federal authorities said. The focus of the law enforcement effort, however, was the Yakima Valley.  “The indictment alleges the growing all occurred here,” said Tom Rice, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The defendants were indicted June 14 on 36 counts of manufacturing marijuana, money laundering and conspiracy. The indictments were sealed until Friday, the day after the arrests.  During their arraignment Friday morning before U.S. Magistrate James Hutton, 10 of the 11 defendants were ordered held without bail until a detention hearing Tuesday.  The 11th defendant, Teresa Moreno Gomez, was released on her own recognizance pending trial. The case is somewhat unusual in that four of the 11 defendants are women.  Federal authorities allege the defendants began buying or leasing vineyards in 2004 and that the operation continued through the end of 2008.

The indictments allege nine counts of manufacturing marijuana, 16 counts of money laundering, nine counts of structuring transactions, and one count each of conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and conspiracy to launder money.  The indictments do not specifically cite seven of the nine properties used for the illegal growing, listing only cities or towns near the sites. Four of the seven were in the Toppenish area, two were in the Sunnyside area and one in Wapato.  In forfeiture allegations, however, federal prosecutors cited two properties, one at 621 Phillips Road near Mabton and the other near the intersection of West King Tull and North Bone roads near Prosser.  Prosecutors also are seeking the forfeiture of profits totaling nearly $3.5 million in cash.

In addition to Moreno, the defendants are David Cornejo, Lorena Cornejo, Eladio Guizar Romero, Candelaria Cardenas, Adolfo Joel Cisneros, Candy Cisneros, Gusmaro Mendoza Baez, Jose Graciano, Armando Gucio Cisneros and Saul Fajardo. Ages and hometowns were not available.  It was not clear why Moreno received immediate pre-trial release. Another female defendant, Candy Cisneros, told the judge she was eight months pregnant but was denied an early bail hearing.  The arraignments Friday were attended by about 20 family members of the defendants, mostly young women. They left court without speaking to the news media.

According to the indictment, various defendants are accused of using proceeds from the sale of marijuana to buy or lease additional properties.  The defendants also are accused of using property transactions to launder cash or of making large deposits to bank accounts, often in amounts of less than $10,000 to avoid bank-required currency transaction reports. Such transactions are known as structuring.  Rice said 16 of the 19 defendants were arrested Thursday, mostly in the Lower Valley. The whereabouts of the other three defendants were not released.

The trend toward the use of vineyards to grow marijuana is a relatively recent phenomena that was first documented in 2008, when narcotics agents seized 30,000 plants from a vineyard on Midvale Road near Sunnyside.  In 2008, 538,918 plants were seized in outdoor grows across the state, according to the DEA, with more than 90 percent of the plants found in Eastern Washington, many of them hidden in vineyards.

via : Yakima Herald

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