PORTLAND, Maine — A federal judge Tuesday took the unusual step of finding a Portland man, who is incarcerated serving a three-year drug sentence, in contempt of court for refusing to answer questions before a federal grand jury even though he was offered immunity.
As a result of U.S. District Judge George Singal’s order, Jerry Thibodeau, 25, most likely will be held at a Maine jail for being in contempt before being transferred to a federal prison to continue serving his drug sentence. If Thibodeau continues to remain silent, he could spend an additional 18 months behind bars.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Joyce asked Singal to grant his motion for civil contempt Tuesday after Thibodeau appeared before the grand jury and refused to answer questions.
“I reject [Thibodeau’s] argument that custody would serve no coercive purpose and I order that he be remanded to the custody of the United States Marshal to be confined until he is willing to give testimony before the grand jury,” Singal wrote the same day Thibodeau refused to testify.
Joyce declined Wednesday to comment on the case.
Thibodeau’s attorney George “Toby” Dilworth of Portland said Wednesday that he could not comment on his client’s decision not to testify.
Grand juries consider evidence presented by prosecutors and hand up indictments in felony cases. In most cases, the identities of witnesses who testify before them and their deliberations are secret. In the federal court system, the times and dates when grand juries are going to convene in Portland and Bangor are not made public.
“Civil contempt orders are not common, but they are not unheard of,” Jim Burke, a professor at the University of Maine School of Law, said Wednesday. “Back when I was a young, in the 1960s, they were very common on political trials. I do not know how often they occur in Maine.”
The order issued Tuesday was the second issued in federal court in Maine in 14 months.
U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby issued a similar order in what appears to be an unrelated case on Feb. 6, 2013, after Christopher Brichetto, 24, of Portland refused to testify before a grand jury.
Brichetto was convicted on three drug charges in connection with his possession and sale of nearly 4,000 oxycodone pills in 2012. He is serving an 8-year sentence at the Fairton Federal Corrections Institute in Fairton, N.J.
Court documents do not indicate if he ever testified before the grand jury.
Thibodeau was sentenced in February to three years in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release on one count of attempted possession of oxycodone. Thibodeau pleaded guilty to the charge in October.
The incident that led to Thibodeau’s indictment by a federal grand jury in June began with a traffic stop on Jan. 29, 2013, in Falmouth, according to the prosecution version of event to which he pleaded guilty. Maine State Police seized 500 oxycodone pills from a passenger in the vehicle, who was identified in court documents as Person A.
Person A told police he was meeting his “middle man,” referred to as Person B. Police located Person B in the vehicle in which Thibodeau was a passenger, the prosecution version of events said. More than $11,600 was found in the vehicle and Thibodeau admitted that he intended to use it to buy the 500 pills.
Burke said that civil contempt orders often are successful at getting witnesses to testify before grand juries and at trials. Occasionally, an individual will remain jailed.
Greg Anderson, professional baseball player Barry Bonds’ personal trainer, was jailed nearly two years for refusing to cooperate with prosecutors and testify against Bonds, according to previously published reports. Bonds was convicted in April 2011 of lying when he told a grand jury in 2003 that he did not knowingly take steroids or human growth hormone.