A man who grew marijuana plants on federal forest land was sentenced to life in prison in a Gainesville courtroom Thursday.
Andrew N. Cox, 45, of Blairsville was subject to federal sentencing guidelines that mandate a life sentence for someone with two prior drug trafficking convictions, U.S. Attorney’s spokesman Patrick Crosby said.
The federal prison system does not have parole.
Cox used a landscaping business as a cover to grow marijuana on forest land in the Chattahoocheee National Forest in spring 2004, according to evidence presented at his November trial.
Three of Cox’s employees, Jose Quezadas-Fuerros, Mayola Vargas-Villenueva and Paciano Vargas-Hernandez, helped transplant marijuana seedlings into U.S. Forest Service property. U.S. Forest Service agents found 594 plants in the forest and 724 seedlings in the yard of Cox’ father.
Cox was indicted in January 2005 but fled the area, remaining a fugitive until his capture in Casa Grande, Ariz., in February 2008.
Cox was convicted on state drug trafficking charges in Florida in 1991 and has a 2000 trafficking conviction from the Middle District of Georgia.
"This defendant was a twice-convicted drug trafficker who has now received his third and final strike," U.S. Attorney David Nahmias said in a statement. "His life sentence is just punishment for a career in the illegal drug trade, which most recently led him to exploit and degrade national forest land."
Senior U.S. District Court Judge William C. O’Kelley imposed the mandatory minimum sentence.
The three co-defendants in the case pleaded guilty to related charges last year and got sentences of two, three and five years in prison.
If Cox had no prior trafficking convictions, he would have been subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.