Sullivan marijuana grow house ring leaders charged
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Wilbert Plummer, the Acting Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Field Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”), announced on August 2 the unsealing of an Indictment against FRANK NATIELLO III, JOSHUA SCHULTZ, JESUS GUTIERREZ, CLEMENTE FERNANDEZ, and JUAN DAVID ZAPATA-MONTOYA (the “Natiello Organization”), for their roles in operating several marijuana “grow houses” in Sullivan County that grew and distributed multi-million dollar quantities of marijuana.
U.S. Attorney Bharara stated: “The Natiello Organization was hiding their alleged marijuana cultivation and distribution operation in plain sight – using houses and garages in rural Sullivan County as a cover. Thanks to the cooperative efforts of law enforcement, their operations have been shut down and they are out of business.”
Acting DEA Special Agent-in-Charge Plummer stated: “Investigations reveal that residences and industrial locations located throughout the state are a popular choice for marijuana grows. The Drug Enforcement Administration continues to uncover sophisticated marijuana grows. The marijuana grows operating in residences are designed to yield substantial quantities of high potency marijuana, while attempting to avoid prosecution. These multi-ton seizures ensure that these dangerous drugs will not reach our communities.”
The following allegations are based on the Indictment unsealed today in White Plains federal court:
From 1998 through April 2011, the Natiello Organization grew, and then distributed, thousands of pounds of marijuana that was cultivated in grow houses in rural areas of Sullivan County, New York. The Natiello Organization established their grow houses in residential homes, garages and other structures that were retrofitted with high intensity lights and ventilation systems. They grew hundreds of potted marijuana plants at a time, which were then dried and trimmed so they could be collected and sold for thousands of dollars a pound.
On March 29, 2011, law enforcement officers seized approximately 7,900 marijuana plants from grow houses operated by the Natiello Organization and arrested 15 of its members – each of whom has pled guilty to conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute, marijuana plants.
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NATIELLO and FERNANDEZ were arrested today and presented in White Plains federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa M. Smith this afternoon. The remaining defendants are at large. If convicted, each defendant faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison. In addition, the Government is also seeking forfeiture of $100 million in proceeds obtained as a result of the offenses charged in the Indictment.
Mr. Bharara praised the efforts of the New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force, which is comprised of agents and officers of the DEA, the New York City Police Department, the United States Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations, Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the New York State Police, the United States Marshal Service, and the United States Attorney’s Office. The Strike Force is partially funded by the New York/New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program, which is a federally funded crime fighting initiative. Mr. Bharara also thanked the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office for its role in the investigation.
This case is being handled by the White Plains Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney John P. Collins, Jr. is in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.