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 was sentenced Monday in U.S. District court to five years in prison on drug charges.
Allen Gagnon, 48, also was sentenced to three years of supervised release after he completes his prison term. In addition, he was ordered to pay a $2,000 fine.
Gagnon pleaded guilty in June to two counts of distributing marijuana and one count of importing marijuana earlier this year. He has been held without bail at the Somerset County Jail since his arrest on Feb. 25.
He faced up to five years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on each count.
Gagnon admitted that on Feb. 24, he walked across the frozen St. John River into Canada in white camouflage gear and brought back trash bags full of marijuana. He also confessed to giving some of the marijuana that same night to Dean Pelletier, 53, of St. David. Pelletier, who died a few days after he was released on bail for allegedly being part of the operation, was the brother of Michael Pelletier, 58, of St. David, who is serving a life sentence in federal prison for running a marijuana distribution ring.
Dean Pelletier told police when he was arrested that over the course of about two years he bought marijuana from Gagnon on at least 18 occasions. He had given his supplier $20,000 in January and owed him another $20,000, according to court documents.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said in June that there was no evidence linking Gagnon’s operation to Michael Pelletier’s.
The Van Buren man first came to the attention of federal officials five years ago when he laid claim to a bag of cash found by railroad workers, according to a report previously published in the Bangor Daily News. He said that a black duffel bag containing more than $165,000 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.
Gagnon 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. He 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.
Woodcock ruled in February 2007 that the money belonged to the government because it was believed to be associated with drug smuggling. Gagnon, however, was never charged with a crime in connection with the found money. The judge found Monday that Gagnon’s marijuana smuggling operation dated back to 2008.
“I did what I did and I deserve what I get,” an emotional Gagnon told Woodcock on Monday. “I did what I did and I regret it. I’m here to say that I’m sorry. I’ve hurt a lot of people and my family. I can’t put the blame on anyone but myself.”
Defense attorney Jeffrey Silverstein of Bangor told the judge on behalf of his client that Gagnon had never spent time in jail before his arrest on Feb. 25. While being held at the Somerset County Jail as he awaited the resolution of his case, Gagnon had seen firsthand the impact the sale of drugs had on many individuals.
Members of Gagnon’s family told the judge that the defendant has changed while in jail and been positive about the future after his release.
“Drug traffickers destroy lives and ruin communities,” Bruce M. Foucart, special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Boston, said in a press release issued after the sentencing. “This case demonstrates that even quiet communities in Maine can be directly impacted by the illicit narcotics trade. ICE is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to deter the smuggling of contraband across our border whether by air, land or sea.”
The investigation was conducted by ICE, the U.S. Border Patrol, the Van Buren Police Department, and the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Portland.