Yuba pot farm defendant pleads ignorance
Mario Rene Castillo-Villegas didn't know the plants he was hired to water in the Yuba County foothills were marijuana plants worth millions, his defense attorney told a jury Tuesday.
Castillo-Villegas, 39, is charged in Yuba County Superior Court with cultivating some of the marijuana that drug agents found when they raided hidden gardens Aug. 31 near Bullards Bar Reservoir. The trial is expected to continue today before Judge James Curry.
The Yuba-Sutter Narcotic Enforcement Team, or NET-5, said it found 8,500 plants with an estimated street value of $17 million in three gardens near the reservoir. The plants were hidden among pine and manzanita trees.
Castillo-Villegas is charged with cultivating 2,500 of the plants with an estimated value of $8 million, Deputy District Attorney Larry Sager told jurors.
He was being paid $1,000 a month to water the plants, said Sager.
Agents swooped down on the garden in a helicopter and found Castillo-Villegas hiding behind a shelter. Another man was seen running away, but no one else was arrested.
“Mario was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said his public defender, Christopher Pallone. “He simply didn't know what the plants were.”
“Literally his whole world came crashing down on him when the agents descended,” said Pallone.
Castillo-Villegas has no criminal record, said Sager. He has been in custody since his arrest. Bail was set at $50,000.
Sager said Castillo-Villegas, who is facing a maximum three-year prison term on the cultivation charge, has refused to say who hired him to tend the plants.
The person who hired Castillo-Villegas has not been found, said Sager.
Appeal-Democrat reporter Rob Young can be reached at 749-4710. You may e-mail him at email@example.com.