BANGOR, Maine — A Van Buren man who laid claim to a bag of more than $165,000 in cash found by railroad workers five years ago pleaded not guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court to marijuana smuggling charges.
Allen Gagnon, 47, was indicted earlier this month by a federal grand jury on two counts of distribution of marijuana and one count of importation of marijuana.
He is being held without bail pending trial, which is tentatively scheduled to begin June 1.
Five years ago, Gagnon claimed that a black duffel bag containing more than $165,000 in cash found by two railroad workers beside tracks near his home was his life savings. The workers turned the money over to U.S. Border Patrol agents.
He said he lost the duffel bag stuffed with $100, $50, $20 and $10 bills near the spot where the railroad workers said they found it.
Gagnon said he lost the bag, which was strapped to his back, while he was driving his snowmobile on the tracks from Van Buren to Madawaska. He and the two railroad workers laid claim to the property.
U.S. District Judge John Woodcock in February 2007 ruled that the money belonged to the government because it was believed to be associated with drug smuggling.
Gagnon was arrested on the marijuana charges Feb. 25 after agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported seeing him give two large garbage bags of marijuana to Dean Pelletier, 53, of St. David. Pelletier was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana.
The St. David man died a few days after being released on bail. Information about how he died has not been released. The charges against him have been dismissed.
Dean Pelletier was the younger brother of Michael Pelletier, 58, also of St. David. The elder Pelletier is serving a life sentence for running a marijuana smuggling ring from the St. John Valley to southern Maine. He was convicted in July 2007 on more than a dozen charges, including drug smuggling, money laundering and Social Security fraud.
Michael Pelletier, who uses a wheelchair as a result of a farm accident when he was 11, is incarcerated at the Terre Haute (Ind.) Federal Correctional Complex. The facility is described on the Federal Bureau of Prisons Web site as a maximum-security facility with a special section for men serving life sentences.
It could not be determined from court documents whether Gagnon’s alleged marijuana smuggling operation was linked to Michael Pelletier’s.
Dean Pelletier told police that he had been buying marijuana from Gagnon for about two years on at least 18 occasions. He gave his supplier $20,000 last month and owed him another $20,000, according to court documents.
If convicted, Gagnon faces up to five years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.