Jurors in Township 37 pot farm trial deliberate 5 hours without reaching verdict

Malcolm French and his wife, Barbara, leave federal court in Bangor on Tuesday.
Malcolm French and his wife, Barbara, leave federal court in Bangor on Tuesday.
Posted Jan. 23, 2014, at 1:30 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 23, 2014, at 9:03 p.m.

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Winston McTague leaves federal court in Bangor on Monday.
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Rodney Russell leaves federal court in Bangor on Monday.
Kevin Bennett
Rodney Russell leaves federal court in Bangor on Monday.

BANGOR, Maine — Jurors in the Township 37 marijuana farm trial went home Thursday night after deliberating for five hours without reaching a verdict.

The jury of nine women and three men began deliberating about 4 p.m. Thursday on the eleventh day of the trial in U.S. District Court, which began Jan. 8. Jurors are to resume the work sifting through thousands of pages of documents and other evidence Friday morning.

The verdict form includes 25 questions they must answer about the guilt or innocence of four defendants — three Maine men and a corporation.

Deliberations began after attorneys’ closing remarks and instructions from U.S. District Judge John Woodcock in the trial of Malcolm French, 52, of Enfield, Kendall Chase, 57, of Bradford, Rodney Russell, 50, of South Thomaston and Haynes Timberland Inc., the French-owned firm where the pot was found.

More than enough corroborating evidence has been presented in the Township 37 marijuana farm trial to find three men and a corporation guilty of running what law enforcement officials have called the most sophisticated outdoor pot operation in the state’s history, a federal prosecutor said in his closing argument.

“Malcolm French had the land and the money,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel Casey, who prosecuted the case, told jurors. “Kendall Chase had the knowledge about how to grow marijuana and Rodney Russell had the time to devote to growing it.”

French and Russell took the stand and denied being involved in the pot farm. Chase did not testify.

Defense attorney Walter McKee of Augusta said that the prosecution had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that French was involved in the operation. He said that it made no sense that the businessman would risk so much to grow marijuana.

“To do this he would have had to have been the stupidest, period, criminal, period, ever, period,” McKee said. “He didn’t keep people out of the area. He allowed access to people working on the salmon restoration project and the [natural gas] pipeline.”

McKee also urged the jury to question where “millions and millions of dollars” earned from previous operations went. He said that no evidence had been introduced to what French might have done with the profits.

Russell’s attorney, Steven Peterson of Rockport, said the evidence showed that the now-deceased Scott MacPherson, who lived in the garage in Township 31 not far from the grow site, was growing and harvesting marijuana in Township 37. He also told jurors to view skeptically testimony by witnesses granted immunity or promises of lesser sentences.

Bangor attorney Jeffrey Silverstein, who represents Chase, told jurors that several of the prosecution’s witnesses admitted lying to investigators and the grand jury since 2009.

“Whether it’s one witness or 100 witnesses, if it’s a bad witness, it’s bad evidence,” he said.

Thomas Marjerison, the Portland attorney who represents Haynes Timberland, said that the prosecution went after the firm so it could seize land in a forfeiture proceeding.

“Township 37 is worth $11 million,” he told the jury. “Why are they going after Haynes Timberland? There are 11 million reasons.”

Marjerison said that none of the defendants’ DNA was found at the grow site.

“There might be DNA if they hadn’t burned the place down,” prosecutor Casey said in his rebuttal, referring to the fire that was set when workers allegedly fled on foot on Sept. 22, 2009, when the pot farm was spotted from the air by police.

The men face a variety of charges in connection with the operation on a plot from which the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency reportedly seized 2,943 mature marijuana plants valued at $9 million. The pot farm was discovered on Sept. 22, 2009, in a 10-acre swamp on 22,000 acres owned by Haynes Timberland Inc. French is part owner of the company.

All have been free on bail since September 2012, when they were indicted by a federal grand jury.

French and Russell were indicted on the following charges: 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.

If convicted of producing that quantity of drugs, both men would face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life. Each also would face a fine of up to $10 million.

Chase was indicted on charges of conspiracy to manufacture 1,000 or more marijuana plants, manufacturing 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, Chase would face up to life in prison but no mandatory minimum sentence. He faces the same fine as French and Russell.

Haynes Timberland Inc., a corporation owned by French and his wife, Barbara Haynes French of Enfield, where the marijuana was discovered, was indicted on one count of maintaining a drug-involved place.

If French and the firm are convicted, jurors would have to decide in a second deliberation if land owned by Haynes Timberland should be forfeited to the government. Woodcock would decide how much land would be forfeited.

Two other men, Robert “Bobby” Berg and Moises Soto, were indicted with French, Russell, Chase and Haynes Timberland. Both have pleaded guilty to charges and are awaiting sentencing. Moises Soto, 53, of Nuevo Leon, Mexico, testified at the trial last week. Berg, 50, of Dexter did not take the stand.

Berg, who remains free on bail, pleaded guilty the day before the trial began to being an accessory after the fact to manufacturing 1,000 or more marijuana plants. In exchange for his guilty plea, federal prosecutors will drop three counts of harboring illegal aliens.

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. When he took the stand Friday, Soto said that by testifying he hopes to receive a lesser sentence.

MacPherson of Wesley, took his own life not far from the grow site in February 2011, just days before he was scheduled to testify before a federal grand jury.

 

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