September 27, 2012

Public may own township after huge Washington County pot bust

Logging business owns land on which marijuana worth $8 million was grown, say authorities

By Kevin Miller
Staff Writer

The public may become the owner of nearly an entire township in Washington County as the result of a 2009 raid on a large-scale marijuana growing operation on land owned by members of one of Maine's most prominent logging families.

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Five people and a Maine timber company have been indicted on federal charges for their connection with a large marijuana growing operation that was uncovered in Washington County in 2009.

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Haynes Timberland of West Enfield was indicted by a federal grand jury, together with several individuals accused of growing and harvesting the drug. Arrested by state and federal officers on felony drug charges Monday were Malcolm French, Robert Berg, Kendall Chase and Rodney Russell, as well as one unnamed individual. If convicted, some face sentences measured in decades and prospective fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The case, which is slated to go to trial in November, stems from an unusual September 2009 drug raid.

Acting on a tip, officers flew low over a remote corner of Washington County, where they saw people setting fire to buildings nestled among several plots containing thousands of marijuana plants. It took authorities days to uproot the 2,943 pot plants, which were part of a sophisticated growing operation involving caretakers -- possibly illegal aliens -- who lived on site. The plants were valued at $8 million to $9 million.

"Typically, the crops we see are in the hundreds of plants, not the thousands," said Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety. "This was the second-largest marijuana crop (seizure) in state history."

That land, it turns out, was owned by Haynes Timberland, a timber and land development company run by French. Haynes Timberland and French now face charges of managing and controlling property used to manufacture marijuana, a felony offense punishable by up to 20 years in prison, a $500,000 fine and land forfeiture.

French also faces a litany of other charges, including manufacturing 1,000 or more marijuana plants and harboring illegal aliens.

The Haynes name is well-known in Maine's billion-dollar forest products industry, thanks to the late Herbert C. Haynes Sr., who built a diversified forest products company that bought, sold, managed and developed large tracts of land.

So Haynes Timberland's indictment on felony drug manufacturing charges created a stir, in part because of confusion over the relationship between Haynes Timberland and the better-known H.C. Haynes Inc.

Family businesses

Few people were willing to talk openly about the unusual, high-stakes case this week. Attorneys for the defendants, representatives from H.C. Haynes Inc. and the Maine Forest Products Association -- an industry trade group -- did not return phone calls. Doug Denico, director of the Maine Forest Service, wouldn't comment. And state and federal law enforcement officials declined to discuss the indictment.

H.C. Haynes Inc. and its leaders are not named in the federal indictment. But documents show that although Haynes Timberland and H.C. Haynes Inc. are entirely separate corporate entities, the two companies share more than a name.

Corporate filings with the Maine Department of Secretary of State show that Barbara French -- daughter of Herbie Haynes and wife of the indicted Malcolm French -- was Haynes Timberland's president and treasurer as recently as April of this year.

French also works in the office of H. C. Haynes Inc., according to the company's website. Neither H.C. Haynes Inc. nor Barbara French were named in the indictment or public court documents relating to the case.

Additionally, public records show that the two companies are linked by a myriad of land deals. H.C. Haynes has sold or transferred to Haynes Timberland multiple tracts over the years while sometimes maintaining timber harvesting rights on the land.

One deal stands out, however. In June 2004, H. C. Haynes appears to have provided Haynes Timberland $4.1 million to buy 22,088 acres in Township 37 from International Paper, according to documents on file with the Washington County Registry of Deeds.

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