Sacto 9-1-1
April 26, 2010
Men involved in violent Lassen pot-growing case convicted

By Cathy Locke

Two men have been convicted in a marijuana growing case that involved a gun battle last year between suspects and law enforcement officers in which one suspect was killed and two Lassen County sheriff's officers were wounded.

U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced Friday that a federal jury convicted Jose Alfredo Zepeda, 20, of East Palo Alto, and Clemente Ferrias Arroyo, 63, of Morgan Hill, of conspiring to manufacture at least 1,000 marijuana plants, manufacturing at least 1,000 marijuana plants and possessing a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking crimes.

The charges stem from an investigation of a large outdoor marijuana garden on federal land in northern Lassen County by two Bureau of Land Management rangers, two Lassen County sheriff's officers and a Susanville police officer.

On June 16, 2009, the officers encountered three suspected marijuana growers. Suspect Juan Carlos Herrera-Chavez engaged the officers in a gun battle using an AK-47 rifle, a Department of Justice news release states. The two sheriff's deputies were wounded, and Herrera-Chavez was killed when officers returned fire, officials said. Both Lassen County sheriff's officers survived.

Evidence presented during the trial revealed that Herrera-Chavez, his brother-in-law, Zepeda, and Arroyo started the marijuana garden in May 2009, the release says. Herrera-Chavez carried an AK-47 semiautomatic rifle, Zepeda was armed with an SKS semiautomatic rifle, and Arroyo carried a Smith & Wesson 9 mm semiautomatic pistol to protect the growing operation.

Zepeda and Arroyo are scheduled for sentencing July 20 in U.S. District Court in Sacramento. Each man faces a sentence of 10 years to life in prison, a $4 million fine and five years to life of supervised release on the marijuana charges, the news release states. The charge of possessing a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking crimes carries an additional mandatory consecutive five-years-to-life sentence, a $250,000 fine and five years of supervised release.

Call The Bee's Cathy Locke, (916) 321-5287.

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