By Cathy Locke
A Bay Area man has been convicted by a federal jury in Sacramento of conspiracy to grow marijuana and carrying a firearm in a drug trafficking offense.
The guilty verdict against Patricio Garcia Reyes, also known as Augustin Vasquez Garcia, 47, was returned Tuesday after a two-day trial before U.S. District judge Kimberly J. Mueller.
According to testimony presented at trial, Garcia Reyes was arrested Aug. 11, 2010, as he watered plants in a grow site with more than 5,000 plants in a remote area of the National Forest in Alpine County.
The grow operation was discovered during aircraft flyovers of the area as part of firefighting efforts in a nearby forest blaze, according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release.
A few days later, a team of U.S. Forest Service employees and Alpine County sheriff's deputies went to the site to investigate and found Garcia Reyes.
Reyes was armed with a 9 mm Beretta semiautomatic handgun and more than 50 rounds of ammunition, authorities said.
Officials said an illegal campsite at the grow location indicated that three or four people likely had been working at the site. It was estimated that each plant would have produced about 1 pound of marijuana when mature, with a street value of approximately $5 million. The plants were about a month from maturity when located and were eradicated.
U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officers with experience in cleaning up marijuana grow sites on Forest Service land estimated the eventual cost of removing of an earthen dam on a stream, campsite items, thousands of feet of irrigation hose, trash and debris would be about $40,000. Because of the site's remote location and rugged terrain, helicopters must be used to bring out much of the material. Because of wild fire danger, officials said, burning the material is not usually an option.
Garcia Reyes is to be sentenced by Judge Mueller on May 19.
Call The Bee's Cathy Locke, (916) 321-5287.