Mexican man living in Taft pleads guilty in large marijuana-growing operation

A man who was living in Taft has pleaded guilty in federal court to charges related to large marijuana growing operations in the Sequoia National Forest.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Fresno said the 46-year-old man -- who goes by either Juan Penaloza-Ramirez, Juan Penaloza-Herrera or Juan Penaloza -- went to Mexico every winter to recruit people to grow marijuana on U.S. public lands. He paid growers and delivery workers, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Thousands of marijuana plants were grown at three sites within the Sequoia National Forest: Fay Creek, Brush Creek and The Needles. These operations led to the destruction of vegetation and pollution of the forest.

Penaloza is set for sentencing in June and faces a statutory penalty of between five and 40 years in prison.

Co-defendant Russell Lee Riggs, 68, of Weldon, is slated for a status conference in May.