Men face decade in prison if guilty in pot case
Two cousins from Mexico learned Friday they could spend at least a decade in prison if convicted on charges related to a federal drug investigation that uncovered more than 9,000 marijuana plants growing in the middle of the Colorado River.
Shackled and dressed in yellow jumpsuits, Santos Ramirez-Alvarez, 37, and Santos Ramirez-Carrillo, 32, made their first appearance in a federal courtroom in Grand Junction. U.S. Magistrate Judge Gordon Gallagher advised the men, through an interpreter, that they could each be charged with a count of conspiracy to manufacture 1,000 or more marijuana plants. The charge carries a possible sentence of 10 years to life in federal prison.
With U.S. marshals and Drug Enforcement Administration agents sitting in the back of the courtroom, Gallagher appointed attorneys for both men. They will return to court on Wednesday, when Gallagher will decide whether to release them on bond while their cases are pending.
A criminal complaint detailing the cases against the two men was not available to the public on Friday.
Roughly a dozen federal and local law enforcement officers descended on a makeshift camp in the river close to Interstate 70 in De Beque Canyon before dawn Thursday and arrested two men. A third man escaped and was still at large on Friday.
Federal agents collected more than 9,200 marijuana plants from two islands in the river.
Steven Knight, group supervisor for the DEA’s Grand Junction office, told The Daily Sentinel authorities launched the so-called De Beque Canyon Grow case in May. Surveillance showed three men living on the smaller of the two islands and patrolling two marijuana grows with rifles.
Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver, said the men are cousins and have family in the Sinaloa state of Mexico.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeremy Chaffin told the court Friday several hundred of the marijuana plants will be held at the DEA office in Grand Junction for 15 days to give defense attorneys an opportunity to examine them. After that, prosecutors will seek to destroy them due to decomposition and the risk of the plants catching fire. Chaffin said the remainder of the plants have already been disposed of at the Mesa County Landfill.