Township 37 tipster says he was angry over not being paid for prior work on pot farm

Posted Jan. 13, 2014, at 1:27 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 13, 2014, at 7:08 p.m.
Winston McTague leaves federal court in Bangor on Monday.
Winston McTague leaves federal court in Bangor on Monday.

BANGOR, Maine — The man who informed law enforcement about the state’s most sophisticated outdoor marijuana farm admitted Monday that he worked at the Township 37 site in 2006 and 2007 when it was a smaller operation with two of the defendants on trial in federal court.

Winston McTague, 48, of Newport said that he sent emails to a Maine Drug Enforcement Agency tipline in September 2008 and again a year later. The tipster testified that he was angry because he had not been paid for the work he did on the marijuana farm in the spring of 2007 and needed the money to pay hospital bills.

McTague took the stand about noon on day four of the trial of Malcolm French, 52, of Enfield, Kendall Chase, 57, of Bradford and Rodney Russell, 50, of South Thomaston. All three are facing a variety of charges in connection with the marijuana plantation raid by police on Sept. 22, 2009.

All remain free on bail.

McTague, who was granted immunity for his testimony, said he tore the ligaments in his shoulder lifting a fallen tree in the spring of 2007 at the Township 37 grow site. As he was recovering from that, McTague testified that he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a motorcycle accident on June 27, 2007.

He said that “I hit a car going 87 miles an hour with my face.”

McTague said that he asked for the money he felt he was owed for work in 2007 to pay hospital bills but instead was given 13 pounds of marijuana as payment. He told the jury of 12 women and three men, including three alternates, that the pot was stolen and he never got the money he felt he was owed.

The tipster said he was “flipping out and going bankrupt” when he sent the tips in 2008. He followed up in 2009 and offered to go undercover to investigate.

McTague admitted that he suffered from short-term memory loss because of his brain injury. During Monday’s testimony, he often paused longer than other witnesses before answering questions. He also did not recall or confused details of his interviews with investigators and Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel Casey, who is prosecuting the case.

On Monday, the tipster testified that he met Chase in the mid-1990s through motorcycle club events. McTague said that he worked with Chase in the early 2000s growing marijuana at Chase’s camp in Danforth. Chase introduced him to French in 2005, McTague told the jury.

That year, the tipster said he worked with Chase and French on a grow of between 500 and 1,000 plants in a swamp near French’s hunting camp in LaGrange. The following year the operation expanded to Township 37, McTague testified. He did not testify Monday that Russell was involved in either operation.

McTeague described how the marijuana plants at the grows he worked at were started as seedlings. They were transplanted into what the federal prosecutor has called “pots” created out of wire fencing, then lined with landscaping ground cover and filled with soil and plant food, McTague said.

Law enforcement officers who dismantled the grow described similar containers discovered on Sept. 22, 2009, when they converged on the Township 37 farm where nearly 3,000 mature marijuana plants, with a street value estimated at $9 million, were growing.

McTague said Monday that he was paid $1,000 a week and some marijuana for working the grows in LaGrange and Township 37 in 2005 and 2006. Under cross-examination by Walter McKee, the Augusta attorney representing French, he admitted that he did not report that income on his income taxes.

Under cross-examination by Bangor attorney Jeffrey Silverstein, who represents Chase, McTague admitted that when police first interviewed him on Oct. 27, 2009, he was not entirely forthcoming. He also said he ended the interview when his wife came home.

“You ended the interview because you didn’t want family members knowing that you had been giving tips to the police, didn’t you?” Silverstein asked.

“If you want to keep anything secret, you don’t tell your wife,” the tipster replied.

McTague also admitted that prior to his interviews with investigators in October 2009, his wife did not know the extent of his prior involvement in growing marijuana. He also said that he did not tell the federal prosecutor that he worked at the LaGrange and Township 37 marijuana grow sites until mid-December when he was preparing for trial and that he revealed the 13-pound marijuana payment for the first time while on the stand.

Cross-examination of McTague is set to continue Tuesday morning.

The trial is expected to last another two to 2½ weeks.

French and Russell are charged with one count each of conspiracy to manufacture 1,000 or more marijuana plants, manufacturing 1,000 or more marijuana plants, maintaining a drug-involved place, harboring illegal aliens and conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute marijuana.

Chase was indicted on charges of conspiracy to manufacture 1,000 or more marijuana plants, manufacturing 1,000 or more marijuana plants, and conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana.

If convicted, French and Russell face between 10 years and life in federal prison. Chase faces up to life in prison but no mandatory minimum.

Haynes Timberland Inc. was indicted on one count of maintaining a drug-involved place. French is a part owner of the company. It faces hefty fines if convicted. The 22,000 acres that make up Township 37, or a portion of it, could be forfeited to the government.

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