A Blairsville man faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole for growing marijuana on National Forest land.
Andrew N. Cox, 45, was convicted by a jury in U.S. District Court in Gainesville this week on charges of conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and attempting to manufacture marijuana, officials said.
Patrick Crosby, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office, said that because Cox had two prior felony drug convictions and because the jury found that the conspiracy involved at least 1,000 plants, Cox faces a mandatory life sentence under federal sentencing guidelines. There is no parole in the federal justice system.
According to evidence presented in court, in 2004, Cox hired three men to plant and cultivate marijuana on private property and U.S. Forest Service land in and around the Chattahoochee National Forest in North Georgia.
Cox used a landscaping company as a front and used private property owned by his father as a staging area to grow hundreds of seedlings in plastic "starter cups," Crosby said.
The conspirators then destroyed trees and underbrush in order to transplant the seedlings into the forest, officials said.
U.S. Forest Service agents later discovered 724 seedlings in the back yard of Cox’s father’s property and an additional 594 plants at three separate grow sites in the adjacent forest. The plants ranged in height from 3 inches to more than 4 feet.
Cox fled after he was indicted in January 2005 and remained a fugitive until his capture in Arizona in February.
His co-conspirators, Jose Quezadas-Fierros, Paciano Vargas-Hernandez and Mayolo Vargas-Villenueva, pleaded guilty to related charges in 2004 and 2006.
U.S. Attorney David Nahmias said in a statement that with tightened border security, "America’s national forests are a battleground in our fight against the illegal drug business. This verdict sends a message to all who exploit and destroy our natural resources to profit off of the illegal domestic drug trade, and those who flee from justice. We will find you, and then we will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law."
Cox is scheduled to be formally sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge William C. O’Kelley in February.