22-Year-Old Man Faces Up to 40 Years in Prison, $5 Million Fine for Helping Operate Kern County Marijuana Groves With Over 10,000 Plants

A 22-year-old man from Perris could receive a 40-year prison sentence and have to pay a fine of up to $5 million in connection with operating two large-scale marijuana farms in the Sequoia National Forest, the United States District Attorney’s Office announced Monday.

Sair Maldonado-Soto pleaded guilty on Monday to charges of conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute, as well as manufacturing marijuana in connection with two groves that other people helped him operate in Kern County, according to a news release from the U.S. District Attorney’s Office.

Since the groves were on public land, Maldonado agreed to pay restitution to the U.S. Forest Service for damage such as the removal of native trees and vegetation to make room for marijuana plants, federal prosecutors said.

Authorities linked Maldonado and 21-year-old co-defendant Coral Herrera to the grow sites after a four-month investigation, which exposed their involvement in the supplying of materials, equipment and staff to the growing of 10,396 marijuana plants in the Lucas Creek drainage of Kern County, federal prosecutors said.

The marijuana farms caused “extensive damage” to natural resources in the region and the land, with “harmful pesticides and fertilizers, miles of plastic irrigation lines, and large amounts of trash” found at both farms, federal prosecutors said in a news release.

Maldonado faces a mandatory minimum penalty of five years in prison, with a possible maximum sentence of 40 years, when he is scheduled for sentencing on Dec. 18. He could also have to pay a fine of up to $5 million.

Herrera, along  with two other co-defendants, previously entered guilty pleas in the case.