FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – A 43-year-old man pled guilty to conspiring to manufacture and distribute marijuana and having a firearm related to drug trafficking operations, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced on Friday.

Officials said Carson Shane Wilhite of Ahwahnee has agreed to pay $46,680 in restitution to the U.S. Forest Service for the damage caused to the environment by the marijuana cultivation.

According to court documents, Wilhite was involved in a marijuana cultivation operation at his home on private land in the Carter Creek watershed drainage network in the Sierra National Forest.

When a federal search warrant was served in the summer of 2019, officers said they found marijuana plants inside and outside Wilhite’s house, as well as 2,261 marijuana plants growing on nearby public land.

Investigators said they located a total of 2,353 marijuana plants.

Additionally, authorities said Wilhite allowed other individuals to pass through his property to the public land so they could grow marijuana there in exchange for $3,000 and an additional $300 per month.

In that arrangement, Wilhite was going to be paid in marijuana and would receive an additional $10,000 upon harvest.

During the search, authorities say they found three firearms, including an AR-15 type assault rifle with no serial number, and a Springfield .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol with a live round chambered.

In a second home of the same property, officers located a safe belonging to Wilhite, which contained 11 more guns.

Authorities said Wilhite told officers that he had been carrying the loaded semi-automatic pistol to check on the marijuana in the forest before they had arrived.

Wilhite has a sentencing date scheduled on Jan. 13, 2023.

He faces a maximum prison term of five years in prison on drug conspiracy and a mandatory consecutive prison term of five years in prison related to the drug charges, and five mandatory years related to the firearms charge. He also faces a $250,000 fine.