Convicted drug ringleader David Jones of Portland testified at the trial of his accused “right-hand man” Wednesday that he paid a percentage of the hundreds of thousands of dollars he made smuggling marijuana across the country to the Boston chapter of the Hells Angels motorcycle club.
During the first day of Steven Olson’s trial in U.S. District Court in Portland, Jones said his marijuana ring, which smuggled the drug from California to Maine, overlapped with a cocaine trafficking ring run by Robert Evon, former owner of the Port City Music Hall, now in jail awaiting sentencing on federal charges in Maine and New York.
Jones said that he bought some of the cocaine he needed to feed his ounce-a-week habit from Evon, and that Evon bought marijuana from him. Jones also said that he was close to an agreement to buy the Port City Music Hall from Evon last year before being outbid by the owners of the nearby State Theatre, which now runs both venues.
Evon was arrested July 31 on cocaine-trafficking charges and Jones was arrested in Portland on Oct. 4 on marijuana-smuggling charges.
Until Wednesday, federal authorities had not revealed the connection between Jones’ and Evon’s drug rings. Lead investigator John Bourque, a detective from the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office assigned to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, described the connection while testifying as the trial’s first witness Wednesday.
Bourque said federal agents heard Jones’ voice while conducting a wiretap investigation into Evon’s ring and subsequently obtained a wiretap for several disposable phones that Jones used.
Olson, 23, of Windham, is the only person so far, out of more than a dozen charged in either ring, to refuse a plea offer and insist on a jury trial. Nearly everyone else charged has pleaded guilty, including prominent Saco attorney Gary Prolman and Old Orchard Beach businessman Michael Paul Jr., who each pleaded guilty to money laundering.
Olson was indicted by a federal grand jury in December and has pleaded not guilty to a charge of conspiracy to distribute marijuana. He faces a minimum of five years and up to 40 years in prison, as well as a maximum fine of $5 million.
Olson’s attorney, William Maselli, told jurors to be skeptical of much of the testimony they would hear because many of the witnesses have either been convicted but still face sentencing, or are trying to avoid being charged.
“Every single one of these witnesses has a very powerful, life-altering motive to come in and testify,” Maselli said. “They all have a motive.”
Maselli told the jurors that he expects the evidence will be “insufficient” to find Olson guilty on the conspiracy charge.
Jones has pleaded guilty to smuggling as much as 5,500 pounds of marijuana from California starting in 2011 using the U.S. Postal Service, and driving hundreds of pounds more across the country, according to federal court documents. The total value of the marijuana was in the millions of dollars.
Evon has pleaded guilty in federal court in New York State to arranging to have two soda vending machines filled with 78 kilograms of cocaine, worth about $2.7 million, to be delivered from Los Angeles to an East Coast warehouse in February 2012. He also faces federal charges in Maine of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, conspiracy to distribute marijuana and possession of the hallucinogen LSD with intent to distribute.
Both men and other members of their drug enterprises face decades in federal prison at upcoming sentencing hearings.
Tiffany Ridlon, Jones’ ex-girlfriend whom he met while she was working as a stripper at PT’s Showclub in Portland, testified that she introduced Jones to Olson in 2012 so Olson could help him with the marijuana smuggling business.
Jones, who also goes by the nickname David Kaos, first drew the attention of federal authorities on Sept. 5, 2012, after a member of his ring, Raymond Paquette, was arrested in Kansas while driving about 106 pounds of marijuana from California to Maine. Jones was in a different car trailing Paquette in Kansas and was also arrested but ultimately released.
The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Perry, said in his opening statement that police obtained a warrant and searched Jones’ properties in Maine after his Kansas arrest, but then the trail went cold for several months.
Jones testified that after his Kansas arrest, he and Olson had a falling out. Jones said Olson refused to pick him up from the airport, wouldn’t return phone calls and waited months before repaying a portion of his $350,000 drug debt to Jones.
“I told him to kick rocks,” Jones testified. “Our working relationship was over.”
Jones also admitted under cross-examination by Maselli that he had threatened multiple witnesses in the case since his arrest. He admitted that he hired a private investigator and another man with connections to the Hells Angels to follow Prolman and collect $177,500 from him after he cut ties with Jones. Jones, who could be sentenced to life in prison, admitted that he agreed to testify against Olson as part of a deal with federal authorities.
“You’d pretty much do anything to do less time in prison, isn’t that right?” Maselli asked.
“I’d say that’s fair,” Jones answered.
Jones is expected to return to the stand Thursday.