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Federal grand jury indicts 18-year-old man in Sierra National Forest pot grow

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An 18-year-old Mexican man is facing the prospect of years in prison after officials say he was arrested at a massive marijuana garden in one of America’s most pristine national forests.

Federal prosecutors say a federal grand jury on Thursday returned a five-count indictment against Jose Antonio Reyna-Chavez, charging him with conspiring to manufacture, distribute and intent to distribute marijuana for his alleged role in the growing of more than 1,500 marijuana plants in the Sierra National Forest.

In announcing the indictment U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said in a statement that the marijuana grow was within three miles of a public campground and about seven miles from Shaver Lake. The lake, at an elevation of about 5,000 feet and surrounded by dense forests, is a popular summer destination for people who enjoy fishing, boating, hiking, rock climbing and camping.

Wagner says the marijuana grow caused significant damage to the land and natural resources of the forest. Six large helicopter net loads of material and debris, including fertilizer, propane tanks, and poisons, were removed from the grow site.

Besides the drug charges, Reyna was also indicted on charges of damaging public land and natural resources and of avoiding immigration officers. Officials say he tried to flee the scene when law enforcement officials arrived at the grow site.

The Sierra National Forest, located on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, is a vast wilderness area covering more than 1.3 million acres of rugged mountains, alpine lakes and thick forests.

Under federal protection since 1893 the park is one of the popular national forests in the nation.

Reyna, who is from Michoacan, Mexico, is scheduled to be arraigned on August 6. Prosecutors say if convicted of the more serious drug offenses, he’s facing a minimum of ten years in prison, and if sentenced to the maximum, could be ordered to spend the rest of his life in prison.