March 20, 2018
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Men accused of growing pot for Bangor head shop owner plead guilty

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
December 2014 file photo of Christopher Ruhlin, owner of Herbal Tea and Tobacco, in the smoking parlor of the Bangor shop.
By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

Two men accused of running an indoor pot farm in Frankfort for the owner of a Bangor head shop and hookah lounge have pleaded guilty to federal drug conspiracy charges.

Nicholas Reynolds, 32, of Bangor and James Mansfield, 33, of Etna, pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court.

By pleading guilty Thursday, Mansfield admitted to U.S. District Judge Jon Levy that between October 2010 and August 2016, he participated in a conspiracy to grow, harvest and sell marijuana in a facility at 376 North Searsport Road in Frankfort. Reynolds admitted to the same illegal conduct on Jan. 29, according to a court document.

Mansfield’s attorney, Terence Harrigan of Bangor, declined to comment Friday.

Leonard Sharon, the Auburn attorney representing Reynolds, said Friday in an email that his client and his family are grateful the judge granted bail. In most drug cases, defendant must remain jailed after entering a guilty plea while awaiting sentence.

Sentencing dates have not been set. Both men remain free on bail.

The pair allegedly ran the operation with Terrence Sawtelle, 48, of Bangor for Christopher Ruhlin, 48, of Holden, owner of Herbal Tea & Tobacco in downtown Bangor, an affidavit for a search warrant said.

Ruhlin’s attorney, Jeffrey Silverstein of Bangor, denied Friday that Ruhlin was involved in the Frankfort operation.

“Mr. Ruhlin’s position is that Misters Reynolds and Mansfield were independent cultivators,” Silverstein said in an email. “They rented the Frankfort space and arranged their grow without his involvement. The hundreds of plants they were apparently cultivating in Frankfort were not managed by Mr. Ruhlin — he had nothing to do with that grow.”

Sawtelle’s attorney, Charles W. Hodson II of Bangor, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Federal prosecutors allege that between October 2010 and November 2013 Ruhlin and Sawtelle used the Frankfort property to grow and distribute marijuana. The indictment also accuses Ruhlin of using his shop and smoking lounge to distribute marijuana between May 2014 and Aug. 25, 2016, when agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration raided the building at 44 Main St.

During a May 12, 2016, raid on the Frankfort property, agents seized about 400 marijuana plants, 295 marijuana root bulbs, processed marijuana, receipts from a garden center totalling about $25,000 and other items, according to court documents. Three months later, 23 containers of processed marijuana were seized from the 13 Owls Club smoking lounge, adjacent to Herbal Tea & Tobacco, in Bangor.

It is the practice of the U.S. attorney’s office not to comment on pending cases.

Ruhlin and Sawtelle are charged with one of count each of conspiracy to manufacture, distribute marijuana and possess with intent to distribute marijuana. Ruhlin also is charged with two counts of maintaining a drug-involved place and seven counts of structuring bank transactions to avoid reporting deposits of $10,000 or more to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Sawtelle and Ruhlin have pleaded not guilty to all the charges and remain free on bail. They are scheduled to be tried in May.

The maximum sentence on the drug conspiracy charges is 20 years in federal prison.

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