BANGOR, Maine — One of the illegal aliens who worked two seasons on the Township 37 marijuana farm stood in the witness box Wednesday and identified all three defendants as men who gave him and other workers instructions on how to tend to the plants in 2008 and 2009.
“Malcolm, Rod, Kendall,” Miguel Roblero, 26, of Harrisburg, Penn., said as he pointed at each man sitting at the defense tables on the sixth day of their trial in U.S. District Court.
Malcolm French, 52, of Enfield, Rodney Russell, 50, of South Thomaston and Kendall Chase, 57, of Bradford are facing a variety of charges in connection with the marijuana plantation raid by police more than four years ago. The Maine Drug Enforcement Agency was following up on an email tip sent by Winston McTague, 48, of Newport, who testified earlier this week that he grew pot with Chase in the early 2000s and with French in 2006 and 2007.
Roblero, who is a native of southern Mexico and does not speak English, testified through an interpreter. He said that he now lives with his fiancee, a native of Puerto Rico, in Pennsylvania with their 9-month-old daughter. Roblero works at a factory there, packing shampoo and deodorant.
He told the jury of 12 women and three men, including three alternates, that he paid a “coyote” to help him enter the U.S. illegally when he was 20. A coyote is a person paid to help people enter the U.S. illegally from Mexico, he testified. Roblero said that he worked picking vegetables in Florida and North Carolina, where he met a man named Abner Morales, whom he knew from his hometown.
Roblero said that he and Morales came to Maine “to plant pine trees,” but when they arrived learned they would be working with Moises Soto, 53, of Nuevo Leon, Mexico, growing marijuana. Roblero said he had never grown marijuana before.
Soto, who spoke English, introduced him to Americans who worked at the marijuana farm in 2008 and again in 2009. Roblero said he knew them by their first names as Malcolm, Rod, Kendall, Kevin and Scott. Other witnesses have said that Kendall Chase’s brother, Kevin Chase, sometimes worked at the grow site. He has not been charged.
Scott MacPherson of Wesley was arrested the day of the raid, according to earlier testimony. He took his own life not far from the marijuana farm in February 2011, just days before he was scheduled to testify before a federal grand jury.
Roblero on Wednesday described the marijuana plantation as MDEA agents who were first on the scene did — a swamp where several plants were grown in wire containers filled with soil, with a cook shack, sleeping quarters and an outhouse nearby.
He told jurors that he and the other men worked 10 to 12 hours a day wearing “clothes like soldiers wear.” Camouflage clothing was found at the site. Roblero said that he was paid about $400 a week in cash, which he sent home to his mother.
Roblero testified that he was working Sept. 22, 2009, when law enforcement officers spotted the 10-acre plot from a plane. Over the next three days, investigators seized nearly 3,000 mature marijuana plants valued at an estimated $9 million and found several burned out buildings.
“We were cutting big leaves off the plants when a plane came by,” Roblero testified. “It turned around and kept circling. We all ran to the place where we slept.”
He said that they put their own clothes in their backpacks, grabbed a few cans of food and ran. Roblero testified that French, MacPherson and Russell were with the Mexicans at first, but French turned back toward the compound. Soto was not with them.
A day or so later, Roblero said that a man named Bobby picked him and the others up in a white vehicle shaped like an ambulance. Bobby took them to a garage where T-shirts and sweatshirts with Maine printed on them were stored. Roblero testified that they stayed there for a couple of days before being driven to New York and dropped off.
On Jan. 7, the day before the trial began, Robert “Bobby” Berg, 50, of Dexter pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact to manufacturing 1,000 or more marijuana plants. By pleading guilty, Berg admitted that he knew about the pot plantation and hid the workers at his Corinth business, which imprints T-shirts, sweatshirts, caps and other items.
In exchange for his testimony, Roblero said he was granted immunity and told he could remain in the U.S. without fear of deportation and work legally. Roblero said that he left his house in Harrisburg to go to work one day in mid-September 2012 and agents with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and three other men in law enforcement were waiting for him.
Roblero said he spoke to them for several hours and the next day came to Maine with them “to testify.” French, Russell and Chase and others were indicted Sept. 14, 2012, by a federal grand jury in Bangor on charges connected to the marijuana farm.
How drug agents tracked down Roblero has not been explained.
Before Roblero took the stand, Jared Flewelling, 25, of Lincoln testified that in January 2007 when he was a senior in high school, he stole a large amount of marijuana from “a barn” at French’s camp in LaGrange. The building from which Flewelling said he took the processed and bagged marijuana was the building McTague testified was “the drying shack” on land where marijuana was grown in 2006.
Soto has pleaded guilty to a drug conspiracy charge and one count of harboring illegal aliens. He is expected to testify Friday about his role in recruiting undocumented workers and his role as an overseer of the day-to-day operation of the farm.
Cross-examination of Roblero is to resume Thursday morning.
The trial is expected to last another 1 ½ to 2 weeks.