Trial of matriarch of Monroe family accused of growing marijuana begins

Posted Sept. 23, 2013, at 12:20 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 23, 2013, at 5:29 p.m.
Darlene Ford, been charged with cultivating marijuana in connection with what police reported was large growing operation in a Monroe home.
Courtesy of Waldo County Jail
Darlene Ford, been charged with cultivating marijuana in connection with what police reported was large growing operation in a Monroe home.

BANGOR, Maine — A federal jury will decide if a Monroe woman was the chief financial officer of the family marijuana business between 2006 and 2011 or if she was in the dark about what her husband and two grown sons were doing in a warehouse on Swan Lake Avenue.

The trial of Darlene Ford, 58, in U.S. District Court before a jury of seven men and five women began Monday at the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building. She has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to manufacture 100 or more marijuana plants, maintaining a drug-involved place, and aiding and abetting a felon in possession of a firearm.

She was arrested Nov. 15, 2011, along with her husband, James F. Ford, 58, of Monroe, and their sons, James T. Ford, 36, of Monroe and Paul Ford, 33, of Swanville. They were indicted a year ago on drug and weapons charges by a federal grand jury.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew McCormack described Darlene Ford in his opening statement Monday as “a wife and mother who was the financial head of the family marijuana business. She also was a wife providing guns to her husband who no longer could get them due to his felony conviction.”

Over a two-year period, she wrote checks to Central Maine Power totaling more than $25,000 to pay the residential electricity, the prosecutor said.

Darlene Ford was not involved in the grow operation and was unaware of it, defense attorney Donald Brown of Brewer told jurors. He said that his client bought the guns and shot them safely on a target range.

“There is no shred of evidence that she ever set foot in that warehouse before the police arrived,” Brown said. “She learned of it that day. She was seeing it unfold before her very eyes.”

Darlene Ford and her husband lived in a small apartment on the second floor of the structure with a separate entrance from the area where the marijuana was grown, the defense attorney said. Brown also told the jury that James F. Ford had the only key to the grow area.

Allen Weaver, a retired Maine Drug Enforcement Agency agent, described the grow operation for the jury Monday. He called it a “sophisticated indoor operation.” Weaver said about 200 plants in different stages of growth were removed from the site.

He also identified ledgers seized in a desk on the first floor where the marijuana grow was located that detailed income and expenditures. Weaver said the handwriting in them appeared to be Darlene Ford’s.

James F. Ford was sentenced in 2004 in Massachusetts to two years of probation for possessing marijuana and illegally storing a firearm. She was not charged in connection with that case.

The family allegedly moved to Monroe when he was released and set up the Waldo County operation. The family was suspected of harvesting about 20 pounds of marijuana every three months and shipping it to Massachusetts, according to a previously published report.

Darlene Ford and her husband, James F. Ford, remain free on $10,000 and $20,000 unsecured bail, respectively. He is scheduled to be tried in November on one count each of conspiracy to manufacture 100 or more marijuana plants, manufacturing 100 or more marijuana plants, maintaining a drug-involved place and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

The couple’s sons have pleaded guilty to charges in connection with the grow operation. James T. Ford is serving a five-year sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Ray Brook, N.Y. Paul Ford is being held without bail at the Somerset County Jail while awaiting sentencing. A date has not been.

Darlene Ford’s trial is expected to go to the jury on Wednesday.

If convicted, Darlene Ford faces up to 20 years in federal prison on the charge of maintaining a drug-involved place, and up to 10 years each on the drug conspiracy and gun charges. Maximum fines on the convictions range from $250,000 on the gun charge to $8 million on the conspiracy charge.

If Darlene Ford and James F. Ford both are convicted, they would forfeit their Monroe property to the government.

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