Monroe matriarch denies knowing about marijuana grow; jury to resume deliberations Thursday

Posted Sept. 25, 2013, at 12:44 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 26, 2013, at 7:37 a.m.

 

BANGOR, Maine — Jurors in the trial of the matriarch of a Monroe family accused of growing marijuana between 2006 and 2011 left about 8:45 p.m. Wednesday without reach a verdict after deliberating for nearly six hours.

The jury of seven men and five women is to resume deliberations Thursday morning. Jurors began deliberating Wednesday afternoon after 2½ days of testimony.

Darlene Ford, 58, testified Wednesday morning that she had no idea her husband and sons were growing marijuana in the workshop area on the first floor of their home until the police raided the operation in November 2011.

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.

James F. Ford sat in the courtroom as his wife testified and sat by her side outside the courtroom as the jury deliberated.

Darlene Ford 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.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew McCormack, who is prosecuting the case, told jurors that Darlene Ford was the chief financial officer for the family’s marijuana business. The federal prosecutor said that she knew what was happening on the first floor of the couple’s home where agents with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency found 211 plants growing in a controlled environment.

“She had full knowledge of what was going on,” the federal prosecutor said in his closing argument. “But at a very minimum, she was willfully blind to what was happening.”

Defense attorney Donald Brown of Brewer urged jurors in his closing argument to believe Darlene Ford’s testimony. He said the government had produced “big smoke, no fire” in its case against her but had proven her husband and sons were guilty.

“Don’t let that smokescreen get in the way of making the government meet their burden of proof,” Brown said.

Darlene Ford told the jury that she learned marijuana was being grown in what she believed to be her husband’s workshop from her son, James T. Ford, as the police arrived on Nov. 14, 2011, with a search warrant. She said that she was upstairs in the apartment cooking spaghetti sauce when agents with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency arrived.

“I was in the kitchen and Little James was sitting on the edge of the couch crying and told me they had been growing weed,” she said. “He said, ‘Me and Dad have [been] growing weed downstairs.’”

Darlene Ford testified that she did not go downstairs into the workshop area because she “had no reason to” and “no interest in what was going on” with her husband’s business.

She told the jury that she paid the bills her husband told her to pay and recorded income in detailed ledgers as he instructed. At one point, the couple had four bank accounts but she wrote all the checks, Darlene Ford testified.

She admitted that over a two-year period, she wrote checks to Central Maine Power totaling more than $25,000 to pay the residential electricity. Darlene Ford said that she did not think it unusual that the electric bills totaled between $800 and $900 a month for the building because her husband had a lot of electric power tools in his workshop.

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

She testified Wednesday that she was not aware her husband had been convicted of a felony. Darlene Ford said she legally purchased guns and ammunition for herself, not for her husband.

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 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 set.

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 are convicted, they would forfeit their Monroe property to the government.

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