Township 37 pot farm defendants guilty on all counts but one

Posted Jan. 24, 2014, at 6:55 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 25, 2014, at 7:39 p.m.
Rodney Russell leaves federal court in Bangor on Monday, Jan. 13.
Kevin Bennett
Rodney Russell leaves federal court in Bangor on Monday, Jan. 13.
Kendall Chase leaves federal court in Bangor on Monday, Jan. 13.
Kendall Chase leaves federal court in Bangor on Monday, Jan. 13.
Malcolm French and his wife, Barbara, leave federal court in Bangor on Tuesday, Jan. 14.
Malcolm French and his wife, Barbara, leave federal court in Bangor on Tuesday, Jan. 14.

BANGOR, Maine — Three men and a corporation were found guilty Friday in U.S. District Court on all counts but one in connection with a marijuana farm in Township 37.

The jury of nine women and three men deliberated 14 hours over two days before reaching a verdict in the trial of Malcolm French, 52, of Enfield; Kendall Chase, 57, of Bradford; Rodney Russell, 50, of South Thomaston and Haynes Timberland Inc., which owned the land where the pot was found.

The men appeared stunned by the verdict. Family members quietly wept as the verdict was read.

All were found guilty of conspiring to produce more than 1,000 marijuana plants between 2006 and 2009. French and Russell were found guilty of manufacturing more than 1,000 marijuana plants in 2009. Chase was found not guilty on the manufacturing charge.

Witnesses testified that Chase was involved from 2006 through 2008 but had a falling out with French before 2009.

The defendants, who had been free on bail since September 2012, were ordered held without bail while awaiting sentencing.

After delivering its verdict on the criminal charges, the jury deliberated for 90 minutes before deciding which properties owned by French and Haynes Timberland should be subject to forfeiture. The jury found that all of Township 37, the warehouse compound in Township 31 where witnesses said supplies used in the grow were delivered and marijuana was processed, and the hunting camp in LaGrange from which marijuana was stolen in 2007 should be forfeited. Jurors also found that French should forfeit his interest in Haynes Timberland, which owns more than 80,000 acres around the state, including the land in Townships 37 and 31.

The men faced 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 Sept. 22, 2009, in a 10-acre swamp on 22,000 acres owned by Haynes Timberland. French is part owner of the company.

“This is a satisfying conclusion to a long investigation and prosecution, the success of which is due in large part to the lead agent who investigated the case, John Richards of the MDEA,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel Casey, who prosecuted the case, said after the verdict was announced.

Defense attorneys expressed disappointment in the verdict.

“Malcolm wasn’t going down without a fight,” French’s attorney, Walter McKee of Augusta, said. “If he had to go down, it was only going to be while on his feet, not his knees.”

Russell’s attorney, Steven Peterson of Rockport, and Chase’s attorney, Jeffrey Silverstein of Bangor, said they would appeal the verdict to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

“We are surprised at the verdict,” Peterson said. “We thought we had established reasonable doubt. The jury was out 14 hours, that shows they had reasonable doubt.”

About 1 p.m. Friday, jurors asked for the transcripts of testimony of two witnesses — Miguel Roblero, 26, of Harrisburg, Pa., and Moises Soto, 53, of Nuevo Leon, Mexico. Roblero, who was in the country illegally, testified that he worked in 2008 and 2009 at the grow site planting, tending and harvesting the marijuana.

Soto said that French asked him in 2007 to find migrant workers to work and live at the pot plantation. The Mexican man 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.

Roblero, who was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony, identified French, Russell and Chase by their first names. Soto identified French and Russell but not Chase.

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.

Both took the stand earlier this week and denied being involved in or having knowledge of the marijuana operation.

Both men face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life. Each 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.

Chase faces up to life in prison but no mandatory minimum sentence. He faces the same fine as French and Russell.

Haynes Timberland, 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.

Jurors decided in a second set of deliberations that land owned by Haynes Timberland should be subject to forfeiture to the government. Woodcock will decide how much land will be forfeited at a separate hearing.

Two other men, Robert “Bobby” Berg and Soto, were indicted with French, Russell, Chase and Haynes Timberland. Both have pleaded guilty to charges and are awaiting sentencing. 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 on Jan. 17, 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. He lived near the grow site and oversaw activities of the illegal workers, according to testimony.

 

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