Man sentenced in pot smuggling case

Posted June 17, 2010, at 10:27 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:37 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A Van Buren man who helped deliver thousands of pounds of marijuana out of state was sentenced Thursday in U.S. District Court to two years and 10 months in prison.

Richard A. Schilling, 53, admitted traveling with Bernard LeFrancois, 44, of Keegan, a village in Van Buren, to delivering hundreds of pounds of marijuana for wheelchair-bound Michael Pelletier, 54, of St. David and, after his arrest, a group of unnamed Canadians.

U.S. District Judge John Woodcock also sentenced Schilling to four years of supervised relief after he completes his prison term. In sentencing him, the judge said Schilling was the last of nine defendants charged in connection with the marijuana smuggling ring Pelletier ran from Jan. 1, 2003, until April 1, 2006.

Pelletier is serving a life sentence at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. He was convicted in July 2007 by a jury on drug smuggling, money laundering and Social Security fraud charges. He received disability benefits because of a farm accident when he was 11 that left him paralyzed from the waist down.

Eight other men, including Schilling, have been sentenced to prison for being part of Pelletier’s marijuana distribution ring. The ninth man, Archie Ladner, 44, of Easton, was found not guilty by a jury in June 2007 of drug charges. He died 11 months later of natural causes.

Schilling waived indictment and pleaded guilty in October to conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute controlled substances and the distribution of controlled substances. By pleading guilty, he admitted accompanying LeFrancois on marijuana deliveries in Connecticut, New York and Maryland.

Although Schilling was on the radar of U.S. Drug Enforcement agents after Hyde Park, N.Y., police found him with $722,000 in cash in April 2007, it was LeFrancois who linked him to Pelletier’s operation. LeFrancois, however, was not charged with marijuana smuggling.

Earlier this month, Woodcock sentenced LeFrancois to three years and eight months in federal prison for conspiring to smuggle nearly 100,000 Ecstasy pills across the border. Schilling was not charged in connection with the pills, brought across the border in suitcases in July 2007. LeFrancois, according to court documents, agreed to take the pills as part of a repayment deal for the money Schilling “lost.”

It was after LeFrancois signed a cooperation agreement with prosecutors that included immunity for other crimes he might reveal in interviews with investigators that his role in Pelletier’s operation came to light, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. LeFrancois confirmed Schilling’s involvement.

LeFrancois, according to court documents, recruited Schilling to accompany him when he transported large amounts of marijuana out of state. The one time Schilling went alone to pick up payment was when he was stopped in New York and the money was confiscated.

The Keegan man testified in June 2008 against Raymond “Rocky” Fogg, 57, of Winn and Anthony Caparotta, 45, of Caribou. According to a transcript of the trial, LeFrancois would pick up garbage bags full of marijuana left on the banks of the St. John River in Frenchville and take them to a rusted freezer on a wood lot owned by Pelletier.

LeFrancois also testified that he delivered between 3 and 10 pounds of marijuana to “Tony in Caribou” several times a month. It was after Pelletier was arrested on April 1, 2006, that LeFrancois apparently began delivering larger amounts of marijuana out of state, although he does not appear to have taken over Pelletier’s operation.

In addition to Pelletier, LeFrancois and Schilling, the following defendants have been sentenced to federal prison terms in connection with Pelletier’s operation: Fogg, five years and three months; Caparotta, five years and eight months in prison; Jeffrey “Jeff the Plumber” Dubois, 45 of Manchester, N.H., three months, Ben Dionne, 30, of St. David, two years; Michael Easler, 29, of St. David, 12 years; John “Scooch” or “Scoochy” Pascucci, 53, of Gorham, three years and seven months.

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