September 27, 2012

Big drug bust, high stakes in Down East Maine

Officials may seize a Maine township, and a timber company is indicted over a large-scale pot-growing operation.

By Kevin Miller
Staff Writer

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.

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Some of the nearly 3,000 marijuana plants found on remote plots in Washington County are shown after a drug raid in 2009. Five people were indicted after the second-largest pot seizure in state history.

Courtesy of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency

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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.

(Continued on page 2)

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