Carson Shane Wilhite, 43, of Ahwahnee, was sentenced Friday to seven years and six months in prison for conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana and possessing firearms in furtherance of the conspiracy in Fresno federal court.
In addition, Wilhite was ordered to pay $46,680 in restitution to the U.S. Forest Service for the damage caused by the illegal cannabis operation, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert said in a news release.
According to the nonprofit Integral Ecology Research Center, which analyzed the damage in the Carter Creek watershed, the grow utilized large quantities of fertilizers and hazardous chemicals. In addition, the area is home to rare species such as several rare species, including the California red-legged frog and California spotted owl.
While cleaning up the site, government crews hauled away more than 6 tons of trash and irrigation pipe.
Wilhite has been in custody since July 2021, after violating his pretrial conditions of release by testing positive for methamphetamine on three occasions, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Officers Seize AR-15 Ghost Gun, Other Firearms
While serving a warrant on Wilhite’s residence, officers found three firearms, including an AR-15 type assault rifle with no serial number, commonly known as a ghost gun, and a Springfield .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol with a live round chambered.
According to court records, officers located a safe, which Wilhite controlled, at a second residence on the property. The safe contained 11 firearms.
This case was the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service; the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Madera Narcotic Enforcement Team task force.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar prosecuted the case.