PORTLAND, Maine — A Fort Kent man who a federal judge said wounded his community when he smuggled marijuana across the border was supported Wednesday by nearly 50 members of that same town at his sentencing on drug charges.
U.S. District Judge George Z. Singal on Wednesday sentenced 33-year-old Chad Marquis to 33 months in federal prison for smuggling hundreds of pounds of marijuana from Canada and distributing it in the Millinocket area.
The judge also sentenced Marquis to four years of supervised release after his prison term and ordered him to pay a $2,400 fine. In addition, Singal ordered Marquis to forfeit nearly $75,000 in cash, his 2006 GMC pickup truck that he used to smuggle the drugs across the border, a snowmobile, canoe, rifle and ammunition.
The execution of his sentence was stayed until July 29.
“Small towns invest in their citizens,” Singal told Marquis in imposing the sentence. “You put a serious wound in the fabric of your small community. … It’s unique that so many people worked so hard and put themselves through so much to support you.”
The defendant’s apparent motive, the judge observed, was to get extra money, which Marquis used to buy the items he was forced to give up after he was caught.
Marquis is well known in the St. John Valley in part because his father, James Marquis, 62, of Fort Kent, was a teacher and principal at local schools until his retirement in 2002.
More than 150 letters in support of Chad Marquis were sent to the judge, according to court documents. Included were letters from Rep. John L. Martin, D-Eagle Lake, the Rev. James L. Nadeau, pastor of St. Louis Catholic Church in Fort Kent, where Marquis is a parishioner, past and current employers, his parents, siblings, in-laws and others. Rep. Martin had nominated Marquis when he was enrolled at the University of Maine at Fort Kent for the two-year term he began serving in 2005 as student representative on the University of Maine System board of trustees. Marquis resigned from that post after his arrest.
Marquis’ attorney, Jay McCloskey of Bangor, filed a 28-page sentencing memorandum, which quoted many of them.
“Chad confesses that he wanted to get out of the drug business because ‘it was robbing my soul,’” the memorandum stated. “He was ashamed of his constant lying and at times he ‘did not know who he was.’ When he told his supplier that he wanted out of the trade, he gave in to the promise of ‘one more time.’”
A number of supporters, including Marquis’ parents, siblings, in-laws and wife, attended the sentencing and some wept quietly through most of the 50-minute proceeding. A few of them addressed the court and urged leniency so Marquis could return to his wife, Nicole Sirois Marquis, and his two sons, ages 3 and 18 months, as soon as possible.
Nadeau and Dick Cost, president of UMFK, where Marquis earned his bachelor’s degree in business in 2006 during the time he was smuggling marijuana, spoke at his sentencing.
The priest said that he had been meeting monthly with Marquis for spiritual counseling since his arrest. Nadeau said Marquis has been volunteering regularly at a local nursing home and had helped during last year’s flood that heavily damaged the church.
“There is a saying,” the priest said Wednesday, “that ‘every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.’ In working with Chad, I have really seen that.”
Cost agreed that Marquis was turning his life around.
“As an educator,” Cost told Singal, “we want to help students learn from their mistakes and their triumphs. I believe that Chad is learning from his mistakes and will return to our community and will contribute to it.”
In a written statement Marquis read to the judge, he apologized to the court, his family and his community and said that he has changed his priorities.
“I have nothing but remorse for what I’ve done,” he said. “I’ve damaged the lives of my wife, my children and those around me. I’m blessed to have so much support from my family and my community.”
In imposing the sentence, Singal praised Marquis for having the courage to look his community in the eye and take responsibility for his crime and the community for having the courage to support him.
“I listened very carefully to what Father Nadeau said,” the judge said.
“I have another saying — ‘To those to whom much is given, much is expected.’ And to you, Mr. Marquis, much has been given.”
Marquis waived indictment and pleaded guilty on March 19 to conspiracy to import marijuana and conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute and the distribution of marijuana. He said he brought marijuana across the border beginning in 2000 or 2001 — first for his own use and later to sell to others.
His smuggling operation was uncovered on May 23, 2007, when a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent found seven vacuum-sealed packages in a camouflage hunting jacket that was in the truck he was driving, according to court documents. Marquis cooperated with authorities and led them to a storage unit in Wallagrass where he said he stored marijuana.
Marquis faced a mandatory minimum of five years in federal prison and a maximum of 40 years. He also faced a fine of up to $2 million.
Under the prevailing federal sentencing guidelines, however, he qualified for a sentence reduction because he cooperated with authorities as soon as he was arrested.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Nichols, who prosecuted the case, recommended a 33-month sentence. Defense attorney McCloskey asked that Marquis be sentenced to between 18 and 24 months in prison.
Both attorneys declined to comment after the sentencing.