BANGOR, Maine — The patriarch of a Waldo County family accused of running a sophisticated marijuana-growing operation in a Monroe garage was scheduled Wednesday to plead guilty to federal drug charges.
But James F. Ford’s hearing was continued because evidence in his 2004 conviction on a marijuana-manufacturing charge in Middlesex County Superior Court in Massachusetts may have been tested by a chemist accused of failing to follow protocols and deliberately mishandling samples in a now closed Massachusetts lab.
The Associated Press has reported that chemist Annie Dookhan was involved in testing more than 60,000 drug samples involving about 34,000 defendants during her nine-year tenure at the lab. Dookhan resigned in March during an internal investigation by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, which ran the lab until July 1, when it was taken over as part of a budget directive, the AP said in September.
U.S District Judge John Woodcock on Wednesday granted a motion made by Ford’s attorney, Charles Hodsdon II of Bangor, to continue the hearing.
The U.S. attorney’s office did not oppose the motion.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Clark said Friday that it was the first case he was aware of in Maine that might be affected by the Massachusetts drug lab scandal.
Ford is charged with conspiracy to manufacture 100 or more marijuana plants, manufacturing 100 or more marijuana plants, maintaining a drug involved place and being felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition.
He and family members allegedly ran the growing operation from 2006 until Nov. 11, 2011, when it was raided by local law enforcement officials, according to court documents. The growing operation appeared to be the family’s sole source of income.
Police seized 21 root balls of harvested marijuana plants, 211 live marijuana plants and more than five pounds of harvested marijuana along with calendars that documented harvest dates and payment records, according to court documents.
Ford remains free on $20,000 unsecured bail.
If Ford’s prior conviction were to be set aside, he would face a mandatory minimum of five rather 10 years in federal prison on the conspiracy and manufacturing charges. The maximum sentence would be 40 years rather than life.
Another member of the Waldo County family did plead guilty Wednesday to federal drug charges.
James T. Ford, 35, of Monroe pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture 100 or more marijuana plants, manufacturing 100 or more marijuana plants and being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition.
Woodcock ordered that he be held without bail while awaiting sentencing, as required by law.
A sentencing date has not been set.
James T. Ford had been free on $5,000 unsecured bail.
He faces a mandatory minimum of five years and up to 40 years in prison on the drug charges and a fine of up to $5 million. On the gun charge, he faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Also charged in the case are family matriarch Darlene Ford, 57, of Monroe, and a second son, Paul Ford, 32, of Swanville.
She is charged with maintaining a drug involved place and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He is charged with conspiracy to manufacture 100 or more marijuana plants and two counts of manufacturing 100 or more marijuana plants.
If convicted, Darlene Ford faces up to faces up to 20 years in prison on the drug charge while her younger son faces between five and 40 years in prison on the marijuana charges. Both face up to 10 years in prison on the gun charges.
Both are free on unsecured bail.