Six Indicted in Connection with Interstate Drug Shipments
“Medicinal” Marijuana Sham Exposed
|U.S. Attorney’s Office November 15, 2010|
FRESNO, CA—United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner, Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Anthony D. Williams, and Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims announced today the unsealing of a federal indictment charging Bounepheng Savongsy, 50; Phousangkhy Phanthadeth, aka “Phou,” 37; Manop Souksavath, aka “Anh Huy Nuynh,” 37, all of Fresno; Ernson Merisier, aka “E,” 26, of Holbrook, Mass.; Marquis Allen Meca, 26, of New Bedford, Mass.; and Ruddys A. Pimentel, 28, of Roslindale, Mass.; with conspiring to manufacture, to distribute, and to possess with intent to distribute marijuana.
According to criminal complaints filed earlier in the case, the defendants were involved in the interstate shipment and distribution of marijuana that was being grown in Fresno, under the guise of being “medicinal.” The marijuana was grown in agricultural fields in Fresno County that were posted with medicinal marijuana recommendations from medical doctors. Rather than being distributed in California for medicinal purposes, however, the defendants are charged with conspiring to make multiple shipments of large quantities of the marijuana to areas in and around Boston, where the drug was sold for about $3,000 per pound, about three times what it sells for in California.
The criminal complaints indicate that Savongsy is a grower and source of marijuana supply for the out-of-state drug traffickers. His nephew, Phanthadeth, is an interstate transporter who cultivated purportedly medicinal marijuana at the same location in southwest Fresno as his uncle and owns two properties in Fresno where marijuana was grown and processed. Souksavath is an interstate transporter, who has shipped multiple loads to the East Coast, two of which he transported with Phanthadeth. Merisier (a convicted drug felon), Meca, and Pimentel, are marijuana distributors in the Boston area. Phanthadeth and Souksavath were arrested in Utah in the course of transporting marijuana on November 4, 2010, following a traffic stop of their vehicle, which contained about 184 pounds of marijuana. The marijuana was then delivered to Merisier, Meca, and Pimentel in Roslindale, Mass., who agreed to purchase the load for about $570,400. Searches executed in the course of the investigation at locations in Fresno, Cedar City, Utah, and Roslindale, Mass. yielded 11 firearms, approximately 4,620 live marijuana plants, approximately 3,563 pounds of processed marijuana, approximately $115,000 in cash, and jewelry valued at about $9,000.
U.S. Attorney Wagner said: “As this case indicates, armed criminals who engage in the interstate trafficking of marijuana cannot hide their operations behind the label of ‘medicinal’ marijuana. We will continue to root out and prosecute drug traffickers who seek to use California’s medicinal marijuana law to cloak their illegal activity.”
This case is the product of a four-month investigation by the DEA offices in Fresno, Salt Lake City, and Boston, and the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, California Department of Justice Central Valley Marijuana Investigation Team, Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, Utah Highway Patrol, Boston Police Department, and North Attleboro Police Department. Assistant United States Attorney Karen A. Escobar is prosecuting the case. The U.S. Attorney’s Offices in St. George, Utah and Boston assisted in the arrests of the defendants and initial court proceedings.
With the exception of Savongsy, the defendants are in federal custody and detained without bail. An arrest warrant has issued for Savongsy, who is at large. In connection with the execution of one of six federal search warrants obtained in this case, agents also arrested Douangchanh Keovilayvanh, 39, of Sanger, California, who was charged via a federal criminal complaint with possessing marijuana with intent to distribute and being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.
If convicted of the drug offenses, the defendants, with the exception of Merisier, face a penalty of 10 years to life in prison and a $4 million fine. Based on his prior felony drug conviction, Merisier faces a penalty of 20 years to life in prison and an $8 million fine. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.
The charges are only allegations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.