BANGOR, Maine — An Enfield man accused of growing marijuana in the basement of his home may have set a statewide record for the number of plants seized by law enforcement.
Richard M. Kuhaneck, 41, was charged Aug. 20 with three counts of cultivation of marijuana, a Class C crime, according to a complaint filed at the Penobscot Judicial Center.
Kuhaneck was in the news earlier this month when his six pet sharks survived a fire that heavily damaged his home at 766 Dodlin Road.
He was charged nearly three months after Penobscot County deputies removed 4,196 marijuana plants from his house, Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross said Thursday.
The plants were immature and ranged in size from 6 inches to 24 inches tall and were being grown under 35 fluorescent lights, he said. Because the plants were immature, a value was not placed on the crop, Ross said. Mature plants are estimated by the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency to be worth between $2,000 and $3,000 each, depending on their quality, after they have been dried and processed for sale.
“I am not aware of a marijuana plant seizure of this number of plants in the history of the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office,” Ross said Thursday in an email. “At maturity, this would amount to a large supply of product that potentially would be in our community and available to our youth.
“Deputy McLaughlin did an excellent job in developing the information and later in the execution of the search warrant,” the sheriff continued. “It was verified that there was no medical marijuana card or license to grow at this residence.”
The number of plants seized in Enfield was nearly 1,000 more than what appears to be the previous statewide, record-setting seizure, according to statistics provided by the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency. In April 1997, 3,254 plants were seized in Carrying Place Township in Somerset County, Roy McKinney, director of MDEA said earlier this month in an email.
Records do not indicate whether the plants in that crop were mature or immature or whether they were grown indoors or outdoors, McKinney said in the email.
McKinney said Thursday that the seizure in Enfield is the largest in the last five years.
The most sophisticated growing operation in state history remains the Township 37 marijuana grow discovered Sept. 22, 2009, growing on land owned by Malcolm French, 51, of Enfield, according to the MDEA. Nearly 3,000 mature plants, most of which were 8 feet tall and valued at $3,000 each, were removed from the remote area of Washington County. McKinney estimated in 2009 the street value of the 2,943 plants at about $9 million.
French, along with Robert Berg, 49, of Dexter, Rodney Russell, 49, of South Thomaston, Kendall Chase, 56, of Bradford and Moises Soto, 53, of Mexico were indicted by a federal grand jury in 2012.
Haynes Timerberland Inc., French’s corporation, was also indicted.
All but Soto have pleaded not guilty and have been freed on bail. They are scheduled to be tried in January in U.S. District Court in Bangor.
Soto pleaded guilty July 30 to a drug conspiracy charge and one count of harboring illegal aliens. He is being held awaiting sentencing.
When asked Thursday whether there is a connection between the cases of French and Kuhaneck, who lived in the same town and have been accused of growing marijuana, Penobscot County sheriff’s Deputy Patty McLaughlin, who led the investigation that resulted in the charges against Kuhaneck, said, “Not that I’m aware of.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel Casey, who is prosecuting French and his co-defendants, Thursday declined to comment on a possible connection.
French’s bail conditions include his not committing any new crimes. A motion to revoke his bail has not been filed by U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services, the agency tasked with seeing that federal defendants on bail abide by bail conditions.
McLaughlin said earlier this month that the investigation that led to the seizure of the marijuana plants at Kuhaneck’s house May 16 began three days earlier when she responded to the report of a fight. Kuhaneck was charged in that incident with two counts of misdemeanor assault to which he has pleaded not guilty.
While investigating the fight that occurred about 8:30 p.m. on the side of Route 2 in Enfield between Kuhaneck and another man and a 17-year-old male, Assistant Penobscot County District Attorney Brendan Trainor, who is prosecuting Kuhaneck, said Thursday, McLaughlin searched Kuhaneck’s car and found a gallon-size, Ziplock plastic bag of marijuana on the floor behind the passenger seat. That gave her probable cause to get a search warrant for Kuhaneck’s house, he said.
The fight apparently stemmed from a flat tire, Trainor said. Kuhaneck responded to a call for aid from an 18-year-old woman he described as a family friend who needed help with changing the tire. The fight broke out after the car fell off the jack.
“Kuhaneck got mad and told the guys to man up and help,” the prosecutor said. “When they didn’t, he slapped them.”
McLaughlin did not arrest Kuhaneck last month when the marijuana charges were filed but issued him a summons, according to court documents.
Kuhaneck has not been indicted by a Penobscot County grand jury, according to the Penobscot County district attorney’s office. He is scheduled to make his first court appearance Oct. 10 on the marijuana charges.
The Enfield man worked for Yates Lumber Inc. in Lee for 12 hours a week, according to court documents. He qualified for a court-appointed attorney. Patricia Locke of Lincoln was appointed to represent Kuhaneck.
Efforts to reach Locke Thursday were unsuccessful.
Nearly two weeks after Kuhaneck was charged with cultivating marijuana, the house from which the plants were removed was heavily damaged by fire on Labor Day, according to a previously published report.
The blaze started when Kuhaneck’s father, whose name was not released by firefighters, was renovating an upstairs bedroom, according to the story published online Sept. 3. A spark from soldered pipes ignited the fire.
The house is salvageable, Lowell Fire Chief Rick Smart said at the time. The fire gutted the bathroom, an adjoining bedroom and heavily damaged a third bedroom and the attic, he said.
The six sharks were contained in a tank in an undamaged part of the house, according to the report. It was unclear whether the fish were true sharks or a tropical species that resemble sharks and is named for them.
If convicted of cultivating marijuana, Kuhaneck faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. He faces up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000 on the Class D assault charges.
French and his co-defendants face between 10 years and life in prison and a $10 million fine on the federal drug conspiracy and manufacturing marijuana charges.