After guilty verdicts in pot farm trial, sale of Township 37, other French properties could be year away

Malcolm French and his wife, Barbara, leave federal court in Bangor in this January 2014 file photo.
Malcolm French and his wife, Barbara, leave federal court in Bangor in this January 2014 file photo.
Posted Feb. 02, 2014, at 6:12 a.m.
Last modified Feb. 02, 2014, at 10:49 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — For sale: 22,088 acres of timberland in scenic Downeast Maine. Just a few acres previously used to grow marijuana. Other properties, including a hunting camping in LaGrange, also available.

It will be at least a year and, if the case is appealed, possibly four or more before an ad listing for sale the properties a jury ordered Malcolm French to forfeit would run in the classified section of the Bangor Daily News or be posted online by a real estate firm.

If U.S. District Judge John Woodcock orders French and the corporation that owns Township 37 to forfeit all of the land along with three other pieces of property, it would be one of the largest seizures of real property in a drug case in state history, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Portland.

French, 52, of Enfield; Kendall Chase, 57, of Bradford; and Rodney Russell, 50, of South Thomaston were found guilty of conspiring to produce more than 1,000 marijuana plants between 2006 and 2009 valued at $9 million. 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.

Haynes Timberland Inc., which owned the land where the pot was found was found guilty of maintaining a drug involved place.

In a separate proceeding, the jury found that property owned by Haynes Timberland and/or French was used to commit or facilitate the commission of drug manufacturing and is subject to forfeiture. Those properties include:

— more than 22,088 acres that make up Township 37;

— a warehouse complex in Township 31 on 18.1 acres;

— a hunting camp in LaGrange on 1.5 acres;

— a 1,258.5-acre parcel adjacent to the camp in LaGrange.

The jury also found that French’s interest in Haynes Timberland, which he owns with his wife, Barbara French, was subject to forfeiture. That interest would be a monetary not a land forfeiture, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

French testified Jan. 21 that Haynes Timberland purchased Township 37 in 2004 from International Paper Co. with a $4.16 million loan from H.C. Haynes Lumber Co., a firm owned by his father-in-law. French said that the loan was being paid off through the sale of logs cut from the land to mills. He told the jury the property today could be sold for $11 million, but no assessment of the land was submitted as an exhibit.

Township 37 is assessed at $3.32 million by Maine Revenue Service, which collects taxes from the Unorganized Territories, under the state’s Tree Growth Tax Program. The Township 31 parcel and buildings in Washington County is assessed at more than $151,000.

The camp and land in LaGrange is assessed by the town for tax purposes at $40,045, according to information provided by First Selectman Joseph E. Poirier. The larger parcel adjoining the camp is valued at a little more than $145,500 under the state’s Tree Growth Tax Program. If it were not covered by that law, the assessment would be more than $600,000, Poirier said.

The 40-year-old Tree Growth law allows landowners to set aside their forested properties for eventual timber harvesting and pay much lower property taxes, according to a previously published report.

The property forfeiture process in a federal drug case is complicated, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Clark, who oversees forfeitures in federal court in Maine, declined Wednesday to discuss specifics of the French case. He did outline the procedures used to seize property associated with criminal activity.

As required by the law, the indictment in the Township 37 pot farm case specified that, if the owners were convicted, the four parcels would be subject to forfeiture, Clark said. After a trial and jury verdict concerning the property, a federal judge must issue a preliminary order of forfeiture, which allows individuals, mortgage holders, leaseholders, municipalities and states owed taxes, and spouses to file claims.

H.C. Haynes owns the mortgage on Township 37, and there are 11 leases for camps on the Second Lake of Old Stream River.

A forfeiture order would not impact any mortgages, leases, easements or leans on the property, Clark said in a previously published report. Once all claims were resolved, title to the properties could be turned over to the U.S. government and possibly sold.

The government doesn’t want to be a landlord and would endeavor to resolve all claims and sell the property to the highest bidder, he said.

At sentencing, a judge also would have to determine if the forfeiture was excessive under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects people from unreasonable or excessive fines, the federal prosecutor said.

In other cases, the defendant and the government have reached settlement agreements when “the parties could agree to substitute other assets for property,” Clark said.

While seizures of cash, cars and residences are typical in federal drug cases, plots of timberland are not.

In January 2008, Michael Pelletier, 57, of St. David was sentenced to life in federal prison after being convicted on charges related to his marijuana smuggling operation in the St. John Valley. At the sentencing, Woodcock ordered Pelletier to forfeit cash, vehicles and property, including his home at 737 Lakeshore Road.

The property was sold the following August for $105,000, according to Lisa Parent, the tax collector for Madawaska, which collects taxes for St. David. The government would have collected about $35,000 on the sale after the $70,000 owed to Key Bank on the mortgage was paid, according to court documents.

Last August, the government dropped its demand that a house at 278 Elm St., Brewer, be forfeited in exchange for nearly $63,000 in cash. The residence was used to house undocumented workers employed by the Twin Super Buffet.

Largest Real Property Seizures by the U.S. Department of Justice 2013

(Based on dollar value)

1. Newark, N.J.: $9.5 million

2. Novato, Cal.: $6.4 million

3. Old Westbury, N.Y.: $3.4 million

4. Webster, Texas: $2.67 million

5. New York, N.Y.: $2.1 million

6. Palm Desert, Cal.: 1.75 million

7. Vienna, Va.: $1.7 million

8. Webster, Texas: $1.34 million

9. Fort Lauderdale, Fla.: $1.34 million

10. Kema, Texas: $1.18 million

Source: U.S. Department of Justice Asset Forfeiture Fund Report

 

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