The federal goverment 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.
Haynes Timberland of West Enfield was indicted by a federal grand jury, together with several individuals who are 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, Rodney Russell and one unnamed person. If convicted, some will face sentences measured in decades and prospective fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The case, which is scheduled to go to trial in November, stems from an unusual drug raid in September 2009.
Acting on a tip, officers flew low over a remote corner of Washington County and saw people setting fire to buildings nestled on several plots containing thousands of marijuana plants.
It took days for authorities to uproot the 2,943 pot plants, 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.”
The land was owned by Haynes Timberland, a timber and land development company run by Malcolm French. Haynes Timberland and French now face charges of managing and controlling property used to manufacture marijuana, a felony punishable by as much as 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.
Haynes Timberland’s indictment on felony drug-manufacturing charges created a stir due, in part, to confusion over the relationship between Haynes Timberland and the better-known H.C. Haynes Inc.
Few people were willing to talk openly this week about the unusual, high-stakes case. 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, declined to 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 while Haynes Timberland and H.C. Haynes Inc. are entirely separate corporate entities, they share more than a name.
Corporate filings with the Maine Secretary of State’s Office show that Barbara French — daughter of Herbert 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 deals in which land, timber rights, mortgages and easements pass between them.
One deal stands out. In June 2004, H.C. Haynes Inc. appears to have provided $4.1 million to Haynes Timberland to buy 22,088 acres in Township 37 from International Paper Co., according to documents on file with the Washington County Registry of Deeds.
Five years later, a tip would lead law enforcement officers to nearly 3,000 marijuana plants growing in a remote corner of that parcel. Now the same tract, encompassing most of Township 37, could wind up in federal ownership if prosecutors win their case.
The indictment says 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 who is 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 land held by Haynes Timberland, as the court filings suggest.
“We will let the indictment speak for itself,” Casey said Tuesday.
Township 37’s fate will be of interest to a host of groups that operate in the region.
Between Route 9 and Grand Lake Stream, Township 37 borders the Machias River and several forests and recreation areas that are protected by conservation easements allowing sustainable forestry but prohibiting 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 land 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 on the list of potentially forfeited properties mentioned in the indictment.
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 “Bobby” Berg jointly sold or transferred numerous properties in the Milo and Brownville areas to other parties over the years.
And in 2007, the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway sold a 10-acre property in Medford and its 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 printing business, Berg Sportswear in Corinna, and seized various materials.
The Bangor Daily News reported later that Berg Sportswear was under investigation for illegally producing items bearing the copyrighted logos of such iconic brands as the Boston Red Sox, the Boston Celtics, Harley-Davidson and Jack Daniel’s.
The presence of so many officers from 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 article in the Bangor Daily News in August 2011.
“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.
Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:
On Twitter: @KevinMillerDC