BANGOR, Maine — A man with dual citizenship in Mexico and the U.S. identified Malcolm French as the person who asked him to find migrant workers to plant, tend and harvest marijuana at the Township 37 pot farm that police have called the most sophisticated ever uncovered in Maine.
Moises Soto, 53, of Nuevo Leon, Mexico, testified Friday about his role in the marijuana plantation raided Sept. 22, 2009, by the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Soto said that he went through a man known as “El Negro” to find workers. Soto also said that he brought some of his own relatives to Maine to work at the grow site.
Dressed in Somerset County Jail clothes, Soto spoke English with a thick but understandable Mexican accent. He took the stand on the eighth day of the trial of French, 52, of Enfield, Rodney Russell, 50, of South Thomaston and Kendall Chase, 57, of Bradford. The three are facing a variety of charges in connection with the marijuana plantation.
Soto pleaded guilty last year to a drug conspiracy charge and one count of harboring illegal aliens. He is being held without bail while awaiting sentencing. Soto said Friday that by testifying he hopes to receive a lesser sentence.
He said that he had seen French and Russell working at the grow site. He did not identify Chase or say he had seen him at the Township 37 farm.
Although Soto has been described in court documents as an “overseer” at the Township 37 marijuana farm, Soto described his role as being more limited. He said that he found workers in 2007, 2008 and 2009 but did not live at the site as they did.
He said that he translated instructions at the beginning of the growing seasons and at harvest time. Soto also said that he sometimes paid the Mexican workers in cash that he received from Scott MacPherson. MacPherson, along with Russell, ran the day-to-day operation on the farm.
MacPherson of Wesley was the only person 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.
Soto said that he met French socially through his ex-brother-in-law, Scott Lufkin, in the early 2000s. Soto also said that he had worked once in the mid-2000s doing logging work for French. The Mexican native said he mostly worked the blueberry harvest as a manager.
Lufkin, 50, of LaGrange testified Friday that he grew up with French, Russell and Robert “Bobby” Berg, 50, of Dexter, who has admitted harboring the illegal workers for a few days after the raid.
In the fall of 2006 or 2007, French came to Lufkin’s house and asked him to put French in touch with Soto, Lufkin told jurors. The two men went to the farmhouse in Aurora where Soto was living. Lufkin said French told Soto he needed some help on some projects but did not say he wanted workers to help grow marijuana.
Soto testified that outside his house that day, French asked him to find workers to clean marijuana. They would be paid $100 for every 100 pounds cleaned and split the money evenly amongst themselves. Then, French drove Soto and Lufkin to the warehouse on Route 9 in Township 31, where MacPherson lived and the marijuana was cleaned in fall 2007, so Soto would know where to bring the workers.
Much of what Soto described matched the testimony Wednesday of former worker Miguel Roblero, 26, of Harrisburg, Pa., who fled the pot farm the day of the raid and was given shelter by Berg. Soto testified Friday that he was in Mexico tending to an injured stepson when he received calls from MacPherson and Roblero on Sept. 22, 2009, about the raid.
“I flew back two days later,” he said. “Scott [MacPherson] said they were hiding at a warehouse.”
He testified that he and “El Negro” went to Berg’s warehouse and picked up the workers. He said that “El Negro” took them to New York and dropped them off and he went back to Mexico. Soto identified a photograph of Berg.
Soto said that Russell sent him between $6,000 and $8,000 between late 2009 and Soto’s arrest coming into the U.S. legally on March 15, 2013.
Under cross-examination, Soto admitted that he had lied to agents and federal prosecutors in early interviews. He also said that until Friday, he had never told them he paid a $2,500 “ransom” for Roblero in the spring of 2009.
Roblero testified Wednesday that he and others were kidnapped by armed men when they were illegally crossing the border from Mexico into Houston. He said the armed men told him and the others they would be killed if they did not come up with $2,500.
Soto said that Roblero called him and he flew to Houston where he met the “kidnappers” in a parking lot and paid them. Soto said that Roblero and his cousin, Abner Morales, who both had worked at the pot farm in 2008, were crossing the border to come work in Township 37 again.
The prosecution is expected to rest its case when the trial resumes Tuesday, and the defense will begin presenting its case.
The trial is scheduled to last another four to six days.
Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously reported that MacPherson, along with Russell and Chase, ran the day-to-day operation on the farm. Chase reportedly did not run day-to-day farm operations.