PORTLAND, Maine — The failing economy coupled with the impending birth of his first child and increasing foot pain caused a glass blower to begin selling marijuana to make ends meet, Ernest Paterno, 41, of Portland told a federal judge in a letter seeking leniency.
U.S. District Judge George Singal on Wednesday sentenced Paterno to one month in prison and two years of supervised release on a charge related to the 24 pounds of marijuana investigators found in his basement in August 2010.
In addition to prison time, the judge fined the owner of the now closed Filament Gallery $4,000. Singal ordered Paterno to begin serving his sentence on Oct. 17.
“While I had previously begun to sell small quantities of marijuana to friends to offset my own costs, I began to purchase and sell more to keep up with my overhead,” Paterno wrote to Singal in a letter dated July 28. “This isn’t how I planned to make ends meet, Your Honor, nor did I intend it to be a long-term plan.
“In my zeal to ensure our financial stability, I had put my then four-month pregnant wife, my business entities, and myself in serious jeopardy,” the artist wrote. “On Aug. 13, [my wife] arrived home to find [U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration] agents in our kitchen. The look on her face as I explained my crime was devastating. Since then, I have done everything I can to cooperate with the DEA agents and get my life back on track.”
Members of Portland’s artist community Wednesday filled a federal courtroom to support a fellow artist and part-time teacher at the Maine College of Art, according to Paterno’s attorney, Richard Berne of Portland. Many had sent letters to the judge on Paterno’s behalf.
Angela Adams, who owns a design firm on Munjoy Hill, said in her letter to Singal that Paterno “has been instrumental in the turn-around of our neighborhood and he continues to play a major role in the positively changing Bayside and Munjoy Hill neighborhoods. If he were to stop being involved on a daily basis, it would be a blow to our community.
“Ernie has worked extremely hard acquiring and renovating buildings that could otherwise have been neighborhood slums,” she continued. “He has worked to improve the neighborhood playgrounds, provided glass-blowing classes to enthusiasts of all ages and backgrounds.”
Paterno in March waived indictment and pleaded guilty to possession with the intent to distribute a mixture or substance containing marijuana. He faced up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Under the prevailing federal sentencing guidelines, he faced between 12 and 18 months behind bars.
Conditions of his supervised release include not using marijuana, even with a prescription, without the permission of the court or a probation officer. In his letter to Singal, Paterno said he had planned to seek out a prescription for medical marijuana for severe foot pain.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Joyce, who prosecuted the case, declined to comment Wednesday on the sentencing.
“It was a very, very fair and well reasoned sentence,” Berne said in a telephone interview after his client was sentenced.
Timothy Carolan, the man from whom Paterno got the marijuana, has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute a mixture or substance containing marijuana.
Carolan, 45, of Portland is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 1 by Singal in federal court in Portland. Police found more than 120 pounds of marijuana at his Portland business and home, according to court documents.