Monroe marijuana farm patriarch sentence postponed for Smarter Sentencing Act passage

Posted July 07, 2014, at 4:09 p.m.
James F. Ford
James F. Ford

BANGOR, Maine — A federal judge postponed the sentencing of a Waldo County man found guilty in November of operating a large-scale, indoor marijuana farm with his family to allow for the possible passage of the Smarter Sentencing Act, which could decrease his sentence.

James F. Ford, 58, of Monroe was convicted by a jury in November of one count each of conspiracy to manufacture 100 or more marijuana plants, manufacturing 100 or more marijuana plants, maintaining a drug-involved place and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

The Smarter Sentencing Act, introduced by U.S. Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, is a bill making its way through the Senate that would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent drug offenders and allow those incarcerated to apply for sentence reductions, among other changes to mandatory federal sentencing laws.

“The Smarter Sentencing Act may have a drastic effect on Mr. Ford’s sentence,” states the motion filed by defense attorney Hunter Tzovarras of Bangor. ”In the interest of fairness and justice, it is respectfully requested the court use its discretion and continue the sentencing until November 2014.”

“The government suffers no prejudice by waiting 5 months to have Mr. Ford sentenced,” the motion later states. “On the other hand, Mr. Ford may end up spending several additional years in prison if the continuance is not granted.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew McCormack objected to the defense motion, saying the bill might not provide the desired reductions and there is a possibility the delay could mean the government could lose the right to seize the Fords’ home, where the marijuana growing took place.

“It is pure conjecture at this time as to the final form, if any, the Smarter Sentencing Act will take,” McCormack said in his opposing motion. “Even if the Act does eventually pass, it is almost certain to be in a form different than the current bill.

The Fords have not paid their property taxes since their arrest three years ago and therefore the town of Monroe has started foreclosing on their Swan Lake Avenue property.

“The preliminary order of forfeiture does not prevent Monroe from foreclosing on an unpaid tax lien,” McCormack said. “If that occurs prior to entry of a final order of forfeiture, the government’s interest in the property could be eliminated.”

U.S. District Judge John Woodcock Jr. agreed with Tzovarras and postponed Ford’s sentencing until Nov. 21, 2014.

Ford, who was convicted of growing marijuana in Massachusetts, moved the family pot-growing operation from Massachusetts to Monroe after he completed a sentence of probation in the Bay State, McCormack told the jury in his closing argument in Ford’s trial.

Due to the Massachusetts conviction, Ford faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years and maximum of life in prison and a fine of up to $8 million on the conspiracy charge under the current federal sentencing guidelines.

Jurors also found that Ford must forfeit his home to the government if his wife, Darlene Ford, 58, also was convicted. A jury deadlocked in the trial of Darlene Ford in September, but she was convicted in a second jury trial in February on one count each of conspiracy to manufacture 100 or more marijuana plants, maintaining a drug-involved place and aiding and abetting a felon in possession of a firearm.

She faces up to 40 years in prison and a fine of up to $5 million. Her next court date, a pre-sentencing conference, is scheduled for mid-August.

The couple’s two sons have both pleaded guilty to charges in connection with the grow operation.

Paul Ford, 33, of Dixmont was sentenced on June 9 to three years and 10 months in federal prison and five years of supervised release. His older brother, James T. Ford, 36, of Monroe, is serving a five-year federal prison sentence.

Detailed ledgers found in a desk outside the grow rooms detailed the amount of cash coming in, and the dates of trips to Massachusetts to sell the marijuana and proved Ford was operating a sophisticated indoor pot farm, McCormack said during his closing arguments. The prosecutor said the “family business brought in about $500,000 in cash between 2009 and 2011.”

Members of the Ford family were arrested in November 2011 when the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency raided the family’s Swan Lake Avenue garage, and found hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of marijuana.

During the raid, police seized more than 300 marijuana plants in various stages of growth, 10 pounds of processed marijuana and two semiautomatic assault weapons.

Tzovarras, in his Monday motion, states the Smarter Sentencing Act, if passed, would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for manufacturing, distribution, dispensing, possession and importing or exporting specific controlled substances.

“If the court determines a mandatory minimum penalty applies to Mr. Ford, that mandatory [minimum] penalty would be reduced by half, from 10 to 5 years,” the defense attorney states.

 

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