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Judge rejects defendant’s attempt to set aside verdict in Township 37 pot plantation trial

Kevin Bennett | BDN
Kevin Bennett | BDN
Kendall Chase leaves federal court in Bangor on Jan. 13, 2014.
By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — The federal judge who presided in January over the trial of three men and a corporation in connection with what has been described as the state’s most sophisticated outdoor marijuana plantation refused Tuesday to set aside one defendant’s conviction.

U.S. District Judge John Woodcock on Tuesday denied Kendall Chase’s motion for acquittal on one count — conspiracy to possess marijuana with the intent to distribute on a plot of land in Township 37, located in Washington County and valued at nearly $9 million.

A jury deliberated 14 hours over two days before reaching a verdict Jan. 24 in the trial of Chase, 57, of Bradford; Malcolm French, 52, of Enfield; Rodney Russell, 50, of South Thomaston; and Haynes Timberland Inc., which owned the land where the pot was found.

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, who was described as the “brains” of the operation because of his knowledge of plant cultivation, was involved from 2006 through 2008 but had a falling-out with French before 2009.

Chase’s attorney, Jeffrey Silverstein of Bangor, filed the motion for acquittal on Feb. 5. He argued that there was “no reliable evidence that Chase possessed any of the marijuana or conspired to possess with the intent to distribute. … There are no witnesses who identify Chase as being a supplier, seller, middle-man or even one who communicated where marijuana could be obtained for sale or resale.”

Woodcock disagreed.

“It is a reasonable inference that if Mr. Chase was involved in growing more than 1,000 marijuana plants, he and his fellow conspirators were doing so to distribute them,” he wrote in an 11-page decision. “Because Count Eleven charged Mr. Chase with participating in a conspiracy, not with himself possessing with intent to distribute, the government only had to prove that the purpose of the conspiracy was to possess with intent — not that Mr. Chase himself did so.”

The three men have been held without bail since the verdict was announced. Their sentencing dates have not been set.

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 men face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life. Each faces 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 and conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana.

He 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. If the firm pays a $1.55 million cash forfeiture instead, it will retain ownership of Township 37, according to a stipulation filed last month.

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.

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 Corinna 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.

Their sentencing dates have not been set.

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