DENVER -- A judge said a national forest in Southern Colorado has become a popular place for a wrong reason. It's the site of illegally grown marijuana.

"I feel like I could be a tape recorder," said Judge R. Brooke Jackson of the U.S. District Court for Colorado. "It seems like the San Isabel National Forest has been the site of a number of these illegal operations."

Those words were his preface when he sentenced one of five growers to five years in prison on Friday.

The judge should know. He had previously sent at least five others to prison for growing thousands of marijuana plants in two sections of the forest in Custer County.

In each instance, authorities said Mexican drug kingpins surreptitiously brought poor Mexicans, seeking more money than they could earn in their home country, to the forest and set up sophisticated pot-grow camps. Reservoirs had been built at the camps to irrigate the plants, and makeshift kitchens and sleeping quarters had been set up.

The kingpins have never been found and some of the growers escaped during a raid on Sept. 20, 2017, that resulted in Friday's sentencing.

The 12-acre grow site, containing 13,000-plus plants, was hidden away near the intersection of Colorado 165 and Colorado 78.

The defendant was Danilo Jemez-Lopez. The other grower caught was Margarito Yepez-Sanchez. Jackson sentenced him last month to serve three years in prison.

On that occasion, the judge said the growers "desecrated 12 acres of beautiful land in a national forest. We don't want you here doing that to our forests."

The prosecutor, Emily May of the U.S. Attorney's Office for Colorado, sought a more severe sentence for Jemez-Lopez, 38, because he had a history of crime and because she said he did not cooperate with authorities by providing information they could use to investigate further.

In contrast, Yepez-Sanchez, 25, had no criminal history, the judge said in September.

Jemez-Lopez was up against a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years, which his attorney, Robert Pepin, of the Federal Public Defenders Office, attacked as an excessive mandatory minimum. He said his client's role in the criminal was less than that of the kingpins who were not caught.

Jackson agreed: "In my sense of justice, 60 months is excessive. Not knowing where his wife and child are is a little bit sad. But my job is to enforce the law. I have no choice."

Jemez-Yepez faced a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison under the original charge, the prosecutor filed against him. Later, she filed the charge that was in play on Friday, which carries the 5-year mandatory minimum.

He pleaded guilty to conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess 100 or more plants with the intent of distributing them, as well as to illegal reentering the United States. A court officer said Jemez-Lopez had been deported twice previously.

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