Federal judge modifies bail conditions of West Enfield man charged in pot farm operation after he attempts suicide

Posted March 22, 2013, at 1:57 p.m.
Last modified March 22, 2013, at 5:26 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A federal judge Thursday modified the bail conditions of a defendant in a Washington County marijuana production case after the man attempted suicide Monday night.

Malcolm A. French, 51, of West Enfield attempted to hang himself at his mother’s home, where he has been living, according to court documents. When deputies with the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office and an ambulance crew responded, French, his wife and mother denied that he had attempted suicide. All three told the police and the emergency medical technicians that French had fallen down the stairs.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Margaret Kravchuk ordered that French undergo psychological counseling, take all medications as prescribed, remove all alcohol from his home and be tested for the use of alcohol in addition to other conditions that include no use of drugs without a prescription and testing for their use.

French was one of five men and a Maine corporation indicted in September by a federal grand jury in connection with operation of the largest pot farm shut down by law enforcement in the state’s history. He has pleaded not guilty to one count each of conspiracy to manufacture 1,000 or more marijuana plants and manufacturing 1,000 or more marijuana plants, two counts of maintaining a drug-involved place and three counts of harboring illegal aliens.

Also indicted were Robert Berg, 49, of Dexter; Rodney Russell, 48, of South Thomaston; Kendall Chase, 55, of Bradford and Moises Soto, 52, of Nuevo Leon, Mexico. All except Soto, along with Haynes Timberland Inc., a Maine corporation, have pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from the Sept. 22, 2009, seizure of 2,943 marijuana plants.

They are scheduled to be tried this fall. All the men except Soto, who was arrested last week at the McAllen, Texas, Port of Entry, remain free on bail. Soto is due to appear before Kravchuk next month in Bangor.

French is free on a $350,000 property bail posted by his wife, Barbara French, who accompanied her husband to court Friday.

If French had succeeded in committing suicide, he would have been the second man involved in the case to kill himself, according to court documents.

Scott MacPherson took his own life in February 2011 just days before he was to have testified before a federal grand jury, according to a previously published report. Information about how he died is not included in court documents.

French’s suicide attempt came to light after his mother called 911 about 9:50 p.m. Monday to report that her son had hanged himself and was not breathing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel Casey on Friday told Kravchuk. The federal prosecutor described the call to the Penobscot Regional Communications Center as “frantic.”

Casey said that French was revived by his wife but when law enforcement officers and EMTs arrived, all three said that he had fallen down the stairs. Deputies observed what appeared to be a rope mark around French’s neck, according to court document.

Casey asked that French’s bail be revoked and he be held without bail while awaiting trial.

Defense attorney Walter McKee of Augusta told Kravchuk that she should implement the conditions she did, which were recommended by U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services. McKee said that after talking to police Monday night, French went to Acadia Hospital in Bangor. He was admitted for observation and released Thursday night.

“It is appropriate for the government to be concerned in this situation,” Kravchuk said in imposing the new bail condition. “I share the government’s concerns but I don’t think detention is the solution.”

The judge said that most likely “incarceration would only aggravate the problem. It should not be looked at as an alternative way to prevent suicide,” she said.

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