Houlton Police Department. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

Central and southern Aroostook County police have recovered larger amounts of cash during drug-related arrests this year showing that a sizable flow of illegal drugs is still making its way into The County.

Presque Isle and Houlton police are reporting much larger sums of money discovered in recent drug busts, leading to higher numbers of cash forfeitures. The higher amounts of cash the alleged dealers have on hand signal that the drugs have already been sold prior to the arrests.

In Presque Isle, police received more than $13,000 in cash forfeitures this year, compared with just $1,800 in 2020, according to Presque Isle Police Chief Laurie Kelly.

“The cases have been on a steady rise for several years now,” Kelly said. “We’ve had cases with upwards to $70,000 plus in cash, vehicles, tools, etc., that we may receive a portion of, but those cases have not been adjudicated yet.”

In Houlton, $40,000-plus in cash has been forfeited to the local police department this year, more than twice the amount forfeited in 2020.

Houlton Police Chief Tim DeLuca said that although the number of drug-related arrests has remained constant this year, police were finding more cash during arrests, such as a recent methamphetamine bust in August in which the person arrested had $18,000 in cash on hand.

“We’ve been having the same amount of arrests, but we’ve been fortunate enough to do drug interdictions at the right point,” he said. “We would prefer to have a larger drug seizure than cash, because it means those drugs are out on the streets. But if we seize the cash, that’s a good alternative.”

The news of higher cash forfeitures comes as two more Presque Isle men have been sentenced as part of a wider conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine across northern and central Maine in 2019.

Reece Humphrey, 28, and Justin Michaud, 35, both of Presque Isle, were sentenced to 10 and 15 years in prison, respectively, for their roles in a planned drug operation that saw large quantities of methamphetamine imported to Maine via the southwestern United States.

Their sentencing follows that of Joel Strother, 44, and Tyler Neece, 29, who both received lengthy prison sentences for their roles in the conspiracy as well. Investigation of the conspiracy was performed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Homeland Security Investigations and the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency with assistance from state and local law enforcement.