December 13, 2017
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Monroe man’s attorney: ‘Government went after Jim like he was Pablo Escobar’

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff
James F. Ford

BANGOR, Maine — A federal jury of eight women and four men began deliberating about 10:30 a.m. Thursday in the trial of a Waldo County man accused of operating a large-scale, indoor marijuana farm that supported his family while illegally possessing assault-style weapons.

The trial of James F. Ford, 58, the patriarch of a Monroe family accused of running an indoor marijuana growing operation from 2006 to 2011 in his home with his wife and two adult sons, began Tuesday in U.S. District Court.

He has pleaded not guilty to 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.

“Right from the start, this has been an overreach by the government,” defense attorney Hunter Tzovarras of Bangor told jurors in his closing argument. “They went after Jim like he was Pablo Escobar.”

Escobar was a South American drug kingpin who exported cocaine to the U.S. and other countries from his native Colombia.

The defense attorney conceded that his client was growing marijuana but told jurors it was not 100 plants. Tzovarras said that just 48 of the more than 200 plants the police seized were mature plants. He said the jury should only count the plants that had buds “because no one smokes the stalks and the roots, everyone smokes the buds.”

Tzovarras said that Ford acted alone and other family members were not involved in growing the marijuana.

“This was a family, not a conspiracy,” he said.

Ford, who was convicted of growing marijuana in Massachusetts, moved the family pot-growing operation to Waldo County after he completed a sentence of probation in the Bay State, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew McCormack told the jury in his closing argument.

“The reason he bought the house with such a small living quarters and large garage was to grow marijuana,” he said.

McCormack told the jury that the detailed ledgers found in a desk outside the grow rooms detailed the amount of cash coming in and the dates of trips to Massachusetts to sell the marijuana proved Ford was operating a sophisticated, environmentally controlled indoor pot farm. The prosecutor said the “family business brought in about $500,000 in cash between 2009 and 2011.”

Darlene Ford, 58, of Monroe and their two sons, James T. Ford, 36, of Monroe and Paul Ford, 33, of Swanville, were indicted more than a year ago on drug and gun charges by a federal grand jury.

A jury in September deadlocked in the trial of Darlene Ford. She is scheduled to be retried Dec. 16 on one count each of conspiracy to manufacture 100 or more marijuana plants, maintaining a drug-involved place and aiding and abetting a felon in the possession of a firearm.

The couple has remained free on bail while awaiting trial.

She sat behind her husband in the courtroom throughout the trial just as he sat behind his wife during her trial.

Members of the Ford family were arrested in November 2011 when the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency raided the family’s Swan Lake Avenue garage where they allegedly grew hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of marijuana.

During the raid, police seized more than 300 marijuana plants in various stages of growth, 10 pounds of processed marijuana and two semiautomatic assault weapons. According to police, the potential street value of the marijuana found in the home was more than $800,000. Jim Pease of the MDEA said in November 2011 that the parents were suspected of harvesting about 20 pounds of marijuana every three months and shipping it to Massachusetts.

Due to his Massachusetts conviction, James F. Ford faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years and maximum of life in prison and a fine of up to $8 million on the conspiracy charge. His wife faces between five and 40 years in prison and a fine of up to $5 million, if convicted.

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

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.

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