A man who played a minimal role in the operation of a multi-million dollar marijuana farm in northwestern Missouri has been sentenced to six years in prison.
Sergio Medina-Perez was a plant trimmer at the farm, a criminal grow site that federal authorities estimated to have nearly $10 million worth of drugs when it was found three years ago.
He pleaded guilty in the Western District of Missouri in February to two felonies for participating in a conspiracy to distribute marijuana and unlawfully entering the United States. He was arrested in 2018 and has remained incarcerated since that time.
Prosecutors recommended Medina-Perez serve 72 months. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brad K. Kavanaugh argued in court Thursday that time would be appropriate considering Medina-Perez’s previous criminal history, which included firearm ownership and drug possession.
Presiding Judge Greg Kays noted Medina-Perez’s record when delivering the sentence, saying there is a need to deter criminal behavior, protect the public from illegal criminal operations and respect the law.
“Growing marijuana illegally is still a problem,” Kays said, adding that such activity brings organized crime and a “bad element” to the public. Despite the minimal role the government admits Medina-Perez played, the judge said Medina-Perez was “clearly integral” to the criminal enterprise.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Missouri since 2018. It is legal in 18 states and Washington D.C. for recreational use.
The only two people criminally charged in the investigation were hired to tend to the plants.
Objections raised by Medina-Perez’s defense attorney, Carie Allen with the Federal Public Defender’s Office, included arguments of Medina-Perez’s relatively minimal role in the operation. He worked for a short while as a plant trimmer for the farm, living there inside a tent, and did not package or distribute the drugs, she said.
She described Medina-Perez and the only other defendant charged in this case as low-level employees.
“These two are the bottom of the totem pole,” she said.
Allen also asked the court to consider the fact that Missouri has since created a medical marijuana program and many other states have legalized the drug for recreational use. She said the drug, while still illegal under federal law, does not pose as great a risk to the public as others seen on the street.
The grow operation was discovered in Daviess County, northeast of Kansas City, in August 2018 by federal agents and local law enforcement. Surveillance conducted included flyovers of the property, where hundreds of plants plus a small camper were seen on the site. On the day the farm was busted up, investigators found tools and equipment to maintain and care for the plants, electricity generators and a .22 caliber rifle believed to have been used for shooting varmints.
According to an affidavit filed in support of the charges, investigators found nearly 2,500 marijuana plants estimated to sell for about $1,800 per pound, amounting to was about $9,757,440 worth of drugs.
Medina-Perez, a citizen of Mexico who had been previously deported, was arrested alongside Miguel Pulido-Maldonado. His co-defendant received a term of 36 months and has since been freed, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
In an interview with investigators, Medina-Perez said he came to Missouri from California and was paid $100 for every pound of marijuana he trimmed.