Caribou man who helped recovering alcoholics sentenced for smuggling oxycodone with son

Posted July 01, 2013, at 8:15 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A Caribou man who spent 40 years supporting other recovering alcoholics was sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court in Bangor to a year and a day in federal prison for helping his son smuggle oxycodone across the border and sell the narcotic painkiller in Aroostook County.

Charles Bernard, 69, pleaded guilty Aug. 30 to one count of the importation of controlled substances. He has been held without bail at the Somerset County Jail since then. That time will be counted toward his sentence.

Bernard and his son, Shawn Bernard, 30, of Caribou were arrested on Aug. 31, 2011, at the Fort Fairfield border crossing when three oxycodone pills were discovered on the younger man, according to court documents.

The younger Bernard admitted to smuggling oxycodone pills across the border about 100 times, bringing between five and 30 into Maine on each trip, according to a previously published report.

His father drove the car because Shawn Bernard did not have a driver’s license and to help his son feed his addiction to prescription painkillers, according to court documents. The elder Bernard also made deliveries and collected payment for his son.

Charles Bernard, who had no prior criminal history, apologized Monday to U.S. District Judge John Woodcock for his actions.

“I’m sorry this happened,” he told the judge. “I’m very embarrassed and wish it never happened. I’ve learned to say no since I’ve been incarcerated.”

John McElwee, a former District Court judge in Oxford County, urged Woodcock to balance the help Charles Bernard had offered to recovering alcoholics over a period of nearly 40 years to the one year he helped his son smuggle oxycodone.

McElwee worked as a prosecutor and defense attorney in Aroostook County for more than 25 years before being appointed to the bench in 2000.

“Between 1985 and 2000, I knew Charlie very well,” said McElwee, who now lives in Falmouth. “I saw him once a week at AA meetings. Charlie was a pillar of our group and the most humble man on the face of the earth. He helped hundreds, if not thousands of alcoholics.”

Although Charles Bernard did not describe himself as a recovering alcoholic, the prosecutor and defense attorney said that he understood addiction. McElwee said that Charles Bernard dealt with his alcoholism years before the the former judge did in the mid 1980s.

McElwee, who retired in 2009, said that “codependence shades Charlie’s activities with his son.”

Federal public defender Virginia Villa said that because her client could not say no to his son, he “got sucked in farther and farther” into the drug smuggling operation. She said that as soon as he was arrested, the elder Bernard “spoke openly with police.”

“Until they had Charlie Bernard’s statement, they only had three pills,” she said. “Shawn Bernard did not give them anything more.”

Shawn Bernard was sentenced in December to three years and 10 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to the same charge to which his father pleaded guilty. He is serving his sentence at the Allenwood (Penn.) Federal Correctional Complex and is due to be released Sept. 9, 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prison’s federal inmate locater.

Both men faced up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million. Under the prevailing federal sentencing guidelines, Charles Bernard faced between two and 2½ years in prison.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel Casey, who prosecuted the case, recommended the elder Bernard be sentenced to two years behind bars. Villa urged the judge to sentence her client to time served or 10 months in jail.

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