Owner of Corinna business charged in marijuana-growing scheme released on bail

Posted Sept. 26, 2012, at 7:11 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The owner of a Corinna business raided by federal investigators in January 2011 and accused of playing a role in a large marijuana-growing operation in Washington County was released Wednesday after posting $250,000 secured bail.

Robert Berg, 49, of Dexter was arrested Sunday along with co-defendants Malcolm French, 50, of Enfield; Rodney Russell, 48, of South Thomaston; and Kendall Chase, 55, of Bradford. All four men along with Haynes Timberland Inc., a Maine corporation, were indicted on federal drug and other charges arising from the Sept. 22, 2009, seizure of nearly 3,000 marijuana plants.

Each pleaded not guilty to the charges lodged against them late Monday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Margaret Kravchuk, according to a previous report. All but Berg were released on bail.

Berg’s release was held up while firearms were removed from his home and deeds of trust to property he owns could be posted as bail.

Another individual also has been indicted in the case but has not been arrested, Assistant Attorney General Joel Casey, who is prosecuting the case, said. Once the person is arrested, his or her name will be released.

French is scheduled to plead not guilty Friday on behalf of Haynes Timberland Inc.

Russell, French and Chase are charged with conspiracy to manufacture more than 1,000 marijuana plants. French, Russell, Berg and Chase are charged with manufacturing more than 1,000 marijuana plants. French, Russell and Haynes Timberland Inc. are charged with managing and controlling property used to manufacture marijuana. French, Russell and Berg also are charged with harboring illegal aliens. In addition, Berg is charged with assisting individuals conspiring to manufacture marijuana evade apprehension.

French was released after his court appearance Monday on $350,000 bail, secured by the deed to his home. Chase was released Tuesday after posting $250,000 bail, secured by deeds to his primary residence in Penobscot County and summer home in Washington County.

Russell, who is on supervised release for a conviction in April 2011 for health care fraud, was released on his own recognizance. He was released July 6 after serving five months in federal prison, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prison’s Inmate Locater website.

Berg is the owner of Berg Sportswear, the Corinna business that does custom screenprinting and embroidery that was raided by federal investigators in January 2011. Documents made public in July 2011 indicated that investigators were looking for evidence that Berg was using logos for major sports teams illegally.

Investigators in January 2011 seized business records, computers and dozens of boxes of merchandise from the business and residence, according to a custody receipt for seized property and evidence filed in federal court in Bangor. In addition to those items, more than $38,000 in U.S. currency and $740 in Canadian cash was found and seized in safes in the garage of Berg’s home.

How that evidence is related to the charges on which Berg was indicted was not clear Wednesday.

When the marijuana operation was discovered in 2009 in Washington County, MDEA officials categorized the size, scope and detail of the operation as quite surprising. They said the plants — many of them 8 feet tall and highly cultivated — were of extremely high quality.

“We have never seen this type of operation in Maine before,” Maine Drug Enforcement Agency Director Roy McKinney said at the time. He confirmed that it was a plantation or farm, where caretakers of the crop lived 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“These are the types of operations we see on the West Coast,” McKinney said. “In Maine, when marijuana is grown in remote locations, someone usually hikes in and checks it periodically. These growers were living right here.”

If convicted, defendants charged with conspiracy and manufacturing marijuana face between 10 years and life in prison and a $10 million fine.

Those charged with managing and controlling property used to manufacture marijuana face up to 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine, if convicted. Defendants charged with harboring illegal aliens face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine; and those charged with assisting individuals to evade apprehension face up to 15 years in prison and a $5 million fine, if convicted. The indictment also seeks forfeiture of Haynes Timberland Inc. and the real property used to manufacture marijuana.

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