Feds won’t seize Township 37 marijuana farm land if owner pays $1.55 million

Posted April 19, 2014, at 9:31 a.m.
Township 37
Eric Zelz
Township 37 Buy Photo
Malcolm French and his wife, Barbara, leave federal court in Bangor in January.
Malcolm French and his wife, Barbara, leave federal court in Bangor in January. Buy Photo
Kendall Chase leaves federal court in Bangor in January.
Kendall Chase leaves federal court in Bangor in January. Buy Photo
Rodney Russell leaves federal court in Bangor in January.
Kevin Bennett
Rodney Russell leaves federal court in Bangor in January. Buy Photo

BANGOR, Maine — Township 37, where the state’s most sophisticated outdoor pot farm was discovered in September 2009, will not go on the federal auction block if its owner, Haynes Timberland Inc., pays a $1.55 million cash forfeiture instead.

Two other properties — a hunting camp in LaGrange and a warehouse complex in Township 31 — are not included in the forfeiture stipulation filed Friday in U.S. District Court.

A jury in January found that the parcels were subject to forfeiture because its owners, Haynes Timberland and Malcolm French, used it to grow and/or process marijuana.

At the end of a 2½-week trial, 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, which owns 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.

The stipulation said that Malcolm French would not have to forfeit his interest in Haynes Timberland or the Township 37 parcel if Barbara French pays the government $1.55 million before he is sentenced. In exchange, Barbara French will give up any claim she might have to the Township 31 land and the LaGrange parcels.

In addition, federal prosecution will recommend that any fine imposed on Haynes Timberland for its role in the crime not exceed $450,000, $50,000 less than the maximum fine that could be imposed. As part of the deal, the attorney for Haynes Timberland will withdraw a pending motion for an acquittal or new trial for the firm.

The stipulation was signed by Malcolm and Barbara French, their attorneys and federal prosecutors.

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 are assessed at more than $151,000.

The camp and land in LaGrange are 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.

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

The men are being held without bail while awaiting sentencing. Sentencing dates have not been set.

Two other men, Robert “Bobby” Berg and Moises Soto, 53, of Nuevo Leon, Mexico, 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 Jan. 8 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.

His sentencing date has not been set.

Soto pleaded guilty the week before the trial began 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.

He is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday in federal court in Bangor.

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