Thursday, April 17, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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.
Five years later, a tip led law enforcement officers to nearly 3,000 marijuana plants growing in a remote corner of that same parcel. And now, the same tract of land that encompasses most of Township 37 could wind up in federal ownership if prosecutors win their case.
The indictment clearly states that the government plans to seek forfeiture for "Haynes Timberland, Inc. and its assets, including but not limited to a certain lot or parcel of land ... situated in Township 37."
Joel Casey, the assistant U.S. Attorney handling the drug case, declined to clarify whether federal officials would attempt to seize all of the company's ownership in Township 37, only the locations of the pot-growing operation or potentially all lands held by Haynes Timberland, as the court filings suggest.
"We will let the indictment speak for itself," Casey said on Tuesday.
Township 37's fate will be of interest to a host of groups operating in the region.
Between Route 9 and Grand Lake Stream, Township 37 borders the Machias River and abuts several forests and recreation areas protected by conservation easements that allow sustainable forestry but prohibit development.
For that reason, the indictment raises questions about what could happen to the township if Haynes Timberland is convicted and the land is forfeited, said Mark Berry, executive director of the Downeast Lakes Land Trust, which owns and manages tens of thousands of acres to the north of Township 37.
"The future of that property is important to the region," Berry said.
The federal indictment singles out four properties owned by Haynes Timberland or Malcolm French for potential forfeiture: Township 37, a warehouse and surrounding acreage on Route 9 in Township 31, and two parcels in the Penobscot County town of Lagrange.
Malcolm and Barbara French also run a real estate company, French Properties, that lists dozens of waterfront lots and large land tracts for sale throughout Maine. Postings on the couple's website, www.realmaineland.com, range from a 1.7-acre lot in Danforth for $7,500 to a 5,300-acre parcel with 6,000 feet of frontage on East Grand Lake for $4 million.
None of French Properties' holdings appear to be included in the list of potentially forfeited properties mentioned in the indictment, however.
Malcolm French and Haynes Timberland have also been involved in numerous land transactions with others named in the indictment.
Documents posted online with the Registry of Deeds in Piscataquis County show that Haynes Timberland, French and co-defendant Robert Berg jointly sold or transferred numerous properties in the Milo and Brownville areas to other parties over the years.
And in 2007, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway sold a 10-acre Medford property as well as the mineral rights to Haynes Timberland and co-defendant Kendall Chase.
This is not Berg's first run-in with federal authorities.
In January 2011, agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Internal Revenue Service raided the offices of Berg's screen Corinna printing business, Berg Sportswear, and seized various materials.
It was later reported by the Bangor Daily News that Berg Sportswear was under investigation for illegally producing items bearing the copyrighted logos of brands including the Boston Red Sox, the Boston Celtics, Harley Davidson and Jack Daniels.
But the presence of so many officers from different federal agencies -- many now involved in the Washington County drug case -- in an apparent trademark case prompted Berg and the company to issue a statement through their attorney, Charles Gilbert.
"The affidavit recites that one of the participating agencies in the raid was the Maine (Drug Enforcement Agency), yet there was nothing in the affidavit which remotely suggested the presence of anything of interest to drug agents," reads the statement, according to an August 2011 article in the Bangor Daily News.
"Similarly, despite rumors to the contrary, there were no illegal aliens or other undocumented workers at the job site, or employed by us," the statement said. "Rather, what the agents found was a legitimate business trying to carry on and support its community and its employees in difficult economic times."
Gilbert did not return phone calls seeking comment Wednesday.
Kevin Miller -- 317-6256
On Twitter: @KevinMillerDC