French denies growing marijuana in Township 37; claims motorcycle club forced him to buy supplies for pot farm
BANGOR, Maine — The Enfield man on trial accused of running a large marijuana farm in Township 37 worked by illegal aliens in 2009 took the stand Tuesday and denied knowing about or being involved in the operation.
Malcolm French, 52, admitted he paid for soil, wire fencing and other supplies in 2006 and 2007, supplies that others have testified were used at the pot plantation. He said on the ninth day of the trial in U.S. District Court that he was forced to order, purchase and arrange for the delivery of supplies to repay a motorcycle club for marijuana that was stolen two separate times from land in LaGrange where French has a hunting camp.
French, Rodney Russell, 50, of South Thomaston and Kendall Chase, 57, of Bradford face charges in connection with the marijuana plantation raided by agents with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency on Sept. 22, 2009.
Under direct examination, French said that in the fall of 2005, Michael G. Smith, 51, of Bradford told him that $35,000 worth of marijuana that had been growing on French’s land in LaGrange had been stolen. French testified that Smith told him at the hunting camp that the marijuana had belonged to the Red Patch motorcycle club.
French said he assumed Smith had connections to the club.
Smith, who has not been charged in connection with the case, is named on Chase’s witness list but no other defendant witness list. Chase’s attorney, Jeffrey Silverstein of Bangor, said after court recessed Tuesday that he did not know if he would call Smith to the stand.
Under cross-examination, French said Smith told him that members of the club believed French’s workers were responsible for the theft. French testified he would not go to police because two years earlier, a worker clearing brush from land surrounding the LaGrange hunting camp found a marijuana patch and told French about it. French said Tuesday that he called a warden, but no MDEA agents or other law enforcement officer followed up on the investigation.
“[Smith] wanted to know if I was going to go to the law or if I was prepared to make it right,” French testified. “I told him I would not go to the law and agreed to make reparations.”
The defendant said he did not have the cash available to make such a large payment and asked Smith to ask the club if he could buy supplies instead. Several days later, Smith came to see French at his wood yard and said the club had agreed that French could purchase $35,000 worth of supplies.
French testified he was afraid of what would happen to his property and family if he did not meet the demand for money. However, he did not say he received specific threats from Smith or anyone else about the safety of his family or properties. He told the jury Tuesday that Smith had said that French would not want anything to happen “like what happened in Otis.” French said that a fire had destroyed three large pieces of equipment in Otis in 1999.
The defendant said he ordered and arranged for the shipment of supplies, including soil and wire fencing, in 2006 and 2007. French said he did not pay for supplies after March 2007. He testified he set up the account at a Gray greenhouse supply firm and told his then-secretary to pay the bill when it arrived.
French also said that the people growing the marijuana would leave notes for him on the bulletin board in a breezeway that connects the garage with an office at his woodlot in LaGrange. The defendant said the bulletin board is used by employees who leave time sheets pinned to it and by others who want to leave him messages.
Last week, 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 with French’s knowledge.
French testified Tuesday that he was not involved in growing marijuana on land in LaGrange or in Township 37. He also said he was not aware marijuana was stored in the building he called “a garage” at his camp until deputies with the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office came to his Enfield home to tell him Flewelling had been caught and claimed to have stolen the marijuana from his property.
The defendant said that after that incident, he heard from Smith again. Smith demanded $16,000 for the motorcycle club, which claimed ownership of the stolen pot, French said. Again, he agreed to buy supplies.
French admitted that the marijuana found in his Enfield home by police in 2009, after the Township 37 raid on Sept. 22, belonged to him. French said he occasionally smoked marijuana because of a loss of appetite due to ulcers. He said he did not have a medical marijuana card. He said he did not grow the marijuana but took it, one plant at a time, when he found it growing on the more than 80,000 acres he owns around Maine.
Tuesday was the first time a motorcycle club named Red Patch has been mentioned in the trial or in court documents associated with the case. Winston McTague, 48, of Newport, the man who tipped police to the Township 37 pot farm and told the MDEA that French was growing marijuana there and in LaGrange, testified last week that his CB radio handle was “Red Patch.”
McTague testified that he tipped off police because he was angry he had not been adequately paid for working at a marijuana patch on French’s hunting camp in LaGrange in 2005 and in Township 37 in 2006 and 2007. He told jurors that French was involved in both operations.
Cross-examination of French and redirect is expected to continue Wednesday.
In addition to French, Russell will take the stand, according to his attorney, Steven Peterson of Rockport. Chase most likely will not take the stand, Silverstein said outside the jury’s presence.
The trial, which began Jan. 8, is expected to last another three to five days.