Defense rests in Township 37 pot farm trial; 2nd defendant denies being part of operation

Malcolm French and his wife, Barbara, leave federal court in Bangor on Tuesday.
Kevin Bennett | BDN
Malcolm French and his wife, Barbara, leave federal court in Bangor on Tuesday. Buy Photo
By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff
Posted Jan. 22, 2014, at 6:27 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The defense rested Wednesday on the 10th day of the Township 37 marijuana plantation trial in U.S. District Court after two of the defendants took the stand.

Jurors are expected to begin deliberating Thursday afternoon after they hear closing arguments and instructions in what Maine Drug Enforcement Agency officials have called the most sophisticated outdoor pot farm in the state’s history.

Two defendants, Malcolm French, 52, of Enfield and Rodney Russell, 50, of South Thomaston, took the stand this week and denied being involved in or having any knowledge of the operation. Defendant Kendall Chase, 57, of Bradford did not testify. The fourth defendant is Haynes Timberland Inc., the company owned by French and his wife, Barbara Haynes French of Enfield.

The men face a variety of charges in connection with the operation on a plot from which the MDEA reportedly seized 2,943 mature marijuana plants valued at $9 million. The pot farm, where undocumented migrant workers allegedly lived and tended to the crop, was discovered on Sept. 22, 2009, in a 10-acre swamp on 22,000 acres owned by Haynes Timberland in Washington County’s Township 37.

Russell testified Wednesday that he and French grew up in LaGrange and went to school together but lost touch after graduating from Penquis Valley High School in 1982. Russell said they reconnected in 2006 after he lost his job as a stockbroker in Bangor and his marriage fell apart.

French let Russell and the now deceased Scott MacPherson of Wesley cut wood off the land in Township 37 and sell it as firewood, Russell told the jury. He testified that he met MacPherson and Chase at French’s hunting camp in LaGrange in 2006 and 2007 respectively.

Russell admitted to going to pick up peat moss with MacPherson at a Gray nursery on at least one occasion and ordering soil and other supplies allegedly used at the grow site several other times at the direction of MacPherson. Russell said he thought the soil and other supplies, including trays in which seedlings are grown, were to be used during culvert installation in Township 37 that was part of a salmon restoration project.

He said that he saw Mexican workers at the Township 31 garage where MacPherson lived, but they were splitting logs, not growing or harvesting marijuana. Russell denied selling marijuana and said he had not heard of the Red Patch motorcycle club. French testified Tuesday that the club forced him to buy marijuana growing supplies.

Russell was convicted in April 2011 by a jury for lying about income he received from French in applying for Medicaid benefits between 2007 and 2009. He was convicted on four counts and found not guilty on two counts, he testified Wednesday. He was sentenced in March 2012 to five months in federal prison.

In addition to prison time, U.S. District Judge John Woodcock, the same judge presiding over the marijuana trial, sentenced Russell to three years of supervised release and ordered him to pay a $5,000 fine.

Russell was released in August 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons Inmate Locator website. The site did not include information about where Russell was incarcerated.

Russell testified Wednesday that he has appealed his conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has not said whether it will consider the case or not. Russell’s conviction was upheld in August 2013 by the 1st U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston.

Under cross-examination Wednesday, French denied growing marijuana to make money to pay off a $4.16 million loan from H.C. Haynes Lumber Co., a firm owned by his father-in-law. The loan was used to purchase Township 37 from International Paper Co. in 2004, he said. French said that the loan was being paid off through the sale of logs cut from the land to mills.

French maintained that he authorized purchases of soil, wire fencing and other supplies in 2006 and 2007, supplies that others have testified were used at the pot plantation. French testified that he did not authorize the purchase of supplies in 2008 or 2009, although records showed soil and other items were paid for with a credit card issued to a construction company owned by French.

French told the jury over two days that he purchased the supplies after Michael G. Smith, 51, of Bradford told him on two separate occasions that a total of $51,000 worth of marijuana, some of which had been grown on French’s land in LaGrange and some of which was stored in a barn there, had been stolen. The defendant testified that Smith told him that the marijuana belonged to the Red Patch motorcycle club.

Smith was listed as a possible witness by Chase’s attorney, Jeffrey Silverstein of Bangor. Smith was not called to testify.

French said Wednesday that he assumed Smith had connections to the club and conveyed the threat to him on the club’s behalf. 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.

Other than French’s testimony, no evidence about the Red Patch motorcycle club has been introduced.

http://bangordailynews.com/2014/01/22/news/down-east/defense-rests-in-township-37-pot-farm-trial-2nd-defendant-denies-being-part-of-operation/ printed on December 19, 2014