SOUTH THOMASTON, Maine — A well respected midcoast fisherman who was granted clemency Monday by President Obama for a drug crime he committed more than 30 years ago says he’s pleased to close that chapter of his life.
“It gives me a sense of forgiveness, is what it does,” Robert S. ‘Bob’ Baines said Wednesday morning in the driveway of his South Thomaston home, taking a break from getting a pair of motorcycles ready for winter storage.
Baines is one of five current and former Mainers President Barack Obama pardoned this week for federal crimes committed in Maine, including one dating back more than 50 years. In all, 78 people across the nation received pardons on Monday.
In 1986, Baines was convicted in a marijuana distribution conspiracy, netting him a six-year prison sentence. He declined Wednesday to go into detail about the crime, but said it’s a chapter he’s pleased to close out now.
“That was a lifetime ago,” Baines said. “It’s nothing I’m proud of.”
The pardons effectively forgive Baines and the others for their crimes and restores the rights they lost when they were convicted. However, it doesn’t expunge the conviction from their records.
Baines, now 60, said the clemency will allow him to travel internationally with ease, which is something he’d like to do while he’s still healthy. Thankfully, as a Mainer, he never lost his right to vote because of his conviction, he said.
Baines was released from prison after spending 19 months incarcerated. After his release, he said, he went straight back to his wife and young children, and returned to the water, where he continues fishing to this day.
“I just went back home and continued my life,” Baines said. “I’ve had great support from my family and the community.”
Today, Baines is a board member for the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. He’s served on numerous other fisheries advisory boards and councils and been an active advocate for the industry and its communities across the state. Advocacy and volunteerism are important aspects of clemency considerations, and have their own section in the application process.
Dave Cousens, president of the MLA, said Wednesday he asked Baines to join 25 years ago, and that Baines has been an important part of the organization ever since.
“He’s a smart guy, articulate and a good problem solver,” Cousens said, adding that Baines has served on the group’s board for 20 years, including two terms as chairman of the Department of Marine Resources’ lobster advisory council, and also has filled roles at the state’s lobster marketing council.
“He’s been on about every council going, he’s given a lot to the industry,” Cousens said. “He’s glad he got [the pardon], and I’m glad he got it. He’s just an outstanding guy. He did everything he could to give back once he got back [from prison].”
In a brief statement released Wednesday afternoon, DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher said that Baines has been an effective advocate for lobstermen and the fishing industry under several different governors.
“Bob has been an active and engaged industry member whose work, including membership on the DMR Advisory Council, Lobster Advisory Council, Zone Council, and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Lobster Advisory Panel, has contributed significantly to effective policy and management decisions,” Keliher said. “Bob has been a valued asset for many [DMR] commissioners over many administrations.”
Baines said he applied for clemency about two years ago, a process that involves explaining the applicant’s conviction and outlining his or her financial and employment history, charitable work, and asking others to speak to your character. This past August, an FBI investigator interviewed Baines in person in South Thomaston as part of this process. The investigator also visited at least a dozen others in the area who knew him. The government also conducted a thorough background check to ensure his record had remained clean since his 30-year-old conviction.
Attempts this week to track down specific detailed information about about the crime for which Baines was convicted have been unsuccessful. The Department of Justice has declined a request from the Bangor Daily News to release additional information about the crimes for which Obama granted the pardons or about the clemency requests.
Copies of the court’s decision to uphold Baines’ conviction that are posted on the websites indicate that a co-defendant organized a shipment of approximately 5,000 pounds of marijuana from the Caribbean on board an auxiliary schooner to Maine. When the vessel was expected to arrive soon off the Maine coast, Baines was contacted and asked to assist in off-loading and transporting the drugs.
“On a drive from Portland to Rockland [Baines] allegedly agreed, in general terms, for about ten percent of the wholesale value, to accomplish the unloading, [with Baines] to select the site and hire the workers,” the decision reads. “[Baines] was instructed how to call the vessel, and communicate with the truckers who would take the marijuana to the stash house.”
“I regret those decisions, and have worked hard to move on from them,” Baines said Wednesday.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.
BDN Coastal Bureau Chief Bill Trotter contributed to this report.