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Two women charged with forcing men to work on illegal marijuana farm

September 23, 2016  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
Two women charged with forcing men to work on illegal marijuana farm Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office shows Medarda Urbieta (left) and Guadalupe Sierra Arrellano (right) in San Andreas, Calif.

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Two women were apprehended on charges of holding four brothers hostage at an illegal marijuana growing operation in Northern California, and forcing them to work at gunpoint for six months.

According to the L.A. Times, the two women are believed to have been living in the U.S. without adequate documentation.

The victims told authorities that they fled back in July from the remote marijuana-growing operation in the tiny Sierra Nevada foothills town of West Point after hearing they would be murdered once all the marijuana was harvested, said Jim Macedo, the Sheriff’s Captain for Calaveras County.

Neither 43-year-old Guadalupe Sierra Arellano nor 44-year-old Medarda Urbieta entered pleas during an initial court hearing in San Andreas, California.

Macedo said detectives are inquiring into whether suspects have any links to Mexican drug cartels. Law enforcement officials stated that they discovered a religious shrine widely used among Mexican drug cartels and traffickers during a search of a Modesto home that was linked with the case.

Brian Chavez-Ochoa, a lawyer representing Arellano, denied that his client had any attachments to cartels and said it appears the site was maintained and cultivated by locals.

Both suspects remain in custody each on $800,000 bail.

Macedo said the victims, who have not been identified, sustained black eyes and bruises after they ran away from the marijuana farm and made it to a local home to ask for assistance. One of the brothers also suffered a broken jaw and had to be admitted to the hospital.

The case was launched back in February when Arellano employed two of the brothers to help clean a residence in Modesto, according to court records. Alternatively, the two brothers claim that they were brought against their will to the marijuana farm and were forced to live and work there while being held at gunpoint. They told authorities that Arellano threatened to harm their family if they left or contacted the police.

Less than two weeks later, investigators say Arellano attracted the two other brothers to the farm under the pretense of visiting the brothers who were held captive. Once they arrived, all four brothers were forced to live and work and reported that they were battered on three occasions, the last time three days which occurred three days before their great escape.

The men ran the marijuana operation, which spanned several acres of land up a winding road with gunmen keeping guard over the house where the women resided. The victims slept in dirty and ramshackle conditions in a hut-like structure.

Calaveras County is a little, poor county experiencing a dramatic shift because of marijuana agriculture.

The traditionally conservative board of supervisors on May 10th made it legal for farmers to grow large quantities of medicinal marijuana. The legislation was viewed as a way to assist the county recover from a disastrous wildfire that burned 26 square miles, resulting in the deaths of two people and destroying 860 homes in September 2015. The county managed to raise $3 million after accepting 700 applications for farming permits, which each cost $5,000.

The legislation was viewed as a way to assist the county recover from a disastrous wildfire that burned 26 square miles, resulting in the deaths of two people and destroying 860 homes in September 2015. The county managed to raise $3 million after accepting 700 applications for farming permits, which each cost $5,000.

The cultivation law was approved over the objection of the district attorney and sheriff, who cited that the isolated county was already overwhelmed with too many illegal pot farms and warned of an inrush of unsavory outsiders.

Authorities also announced that they destroyed 23,000 plants worth up to $60 million that were intercepted on July 28th at the forested compound where the brothers were forced to work. The two women were captured on September 14th and were charged with kidnapping, human trafficking, battery with serious bodily injury, drug charges, and terrorist threats.

“We’ve seen an increase in violence, theft, and greed related to marijuana trafficking, and this appears to be an organized, violent group,” Macedo noted

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