BANGOR, Maine — A jury will have to decide whether a Millinocket man was a casual user of marijuana whose drug selling ended in 2003 or a dealer for a Fort Kent man serving a 33-month federal prison sentence for bringing marijuana across the border and distributing it in northern Penobscot County.
William “Billy” L. Bernier, 38, has denied buying from or selling drugs for Chad Marquis, 34, the St. John Valley man who has admitted smuggling hundreds of pounds of marijuana into the U.S. from Canada. Bernier pleaded not guilty this summer to conspiracy with intent to distribute marijuana.
His trial began Monday in U.S. District Court.
Because of the five-year statute of limitations, to get a conviction federal prosecutors must prove that Bernier distributed marijuana for Marquis after 2003.
Marquis waived indictment in March and pleaded guilty to smuggling hundreds of pounds of marijuana into the U.S. from 2002 until his arrest on May 23, 2007, when a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent found 35 pounds of marijuana hidden in his truck.
He has been serving his sentence at a federal prison camp in Devens, Mass. Marquis agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in return for a sentence that was less than the mandatory minimum sentence of five years, he testified Monday. He also said that he was hopeful his sentence would be reduced further after Bernier’s trial.
Marquis told the jury of nine women and five men, which includes two alternates, that he knew Bernier from work both had done in the logging industry. The Fort Kent man also testified that Bernier had purchased small amounts of marijuana from him in 2000 or 2001. Marquis said that is when he began bringing small amounts of marijuana across the border for his personal use and to sell to friends.
He told the jury that Bernier first bought quarter-pound bags of marijuana, but later purchased a pound at a time. Marquis testified that Bernier introduced him in 2002 to Michael Donato, 50, of Medway.
Donato pleaded guilty in June to conspiracy to distribute marijuana and failing to report income from drug sales to Social Security. He testified Monday that he has been on disability since 1996 because of a back injury. Donato is being held without bail awaiting sentencing, which is scheduled to be held next month.
He told the jury that Bernier introduced him to Marquis. Donato also said that until Friday, he had not seen the Millinocket man since 2003 or 2004. Donato told the jury that when Marquis was arrested, he was buying 7 to 10 pounds of marijuana from the Fort Kent man every month or two.
Marquis testified that by 2006, he needed help distributing the marijuana because he had married, had a child, was a full-time college student and was working at an insurance agency. He enlisted Steve A. Nadeau, 34, of Fort Kent, his best friend since both were 5, to take marijuana to Bernier, Donato and others. Marquis said he told Nadeau that Bernier would be buying 1 to 3 pounds of marijuana every couple of months.
Nadeau pleaded guilty in November to the same conspiracy charge to which Bernier pleaded not guilty. Nadeau, who is on bail pending sentencing set for March 1, is expected to testify against Bernier when the trial resumes today.
If convicted, Bernier faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million.
U.S. District Judge George Z. Singal is presiding over the trial, which is expected to go to the jury Wednesday.