BANGOR – The third day of testimony Monday in the federal jury trial of a wheelchair-bound Aroostook County man accused of running a multimillion-dollar marijuana distribution ring included an admission by a star witness that he had lied to a federal grand jury about the size of the operation.
Michael J. Pelletier, 50, of St. David allegedly ran the smuggling and distribution network from June 2003 to March 2006 while he collected disability benefits. He allegedly laundered the money by investing in real estate.
The witness, who has admitted he brought marijuana into the country from Canada for Pelletier in 2004, detailed for the jury and U.S. District Judge John Woodcock how the operation worked.
Adam M. Hafford, 37, of Westfield, who is serving a 10-year sentence in federal prison in New York on a gun charge, told the jury how he swam across the St. John River with large duffel bags full of marijuana on his back, then helped distribute it under Pelletier’s direction.
In an agreement with Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel Casey, Hafford’s sentence on the gun charge was reduced by five years and he was granted immunity from being prosecuted for his drug activities in exchange for his testimony against Pelletier and others.
While on the stand Monday, Hafford admitted under cross-examination by defense attorney Matthew Erickson of Brewer that he had “exaggerated” the extent of the operation when he testified before the federal grand jury that indicted Pelletier in June 2006.
He testified Monday that although he had told the grand jury that he brought up to 220 pounds of marijuana across the river at a time, the most he ever actually carried was 120 pounds.
Hafford also said that between June and November 2004, he swam the river every week or two, rather than the one to seven times a week he told the grand jury he made the trip.
Hafford said he met Pelletier in 2001 when both were serving sentences at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham.
Hafford was serving a sentence for burglary and theft while Pelletier was serving an 18-month sentence for violating his probation on a 1994 drug trafficking conviction.
While in prison, Hafford said Pelletier offered him a job when he was released. Pelletier returned to his St. David home after his release in the spring of 2004 and Hafford testified that he took Pelletier up on the job offer to smuggle drugs when he was released in June 2004.
Hafford, who said he does not know how to swim, first swam the St. John wearing a life jacket. Later, Pelletier purchased a wet suit, fins and a motorized underwater “scooter” to make the crossing easier.
In the beginning, Pelletier would take cash to pay for the drugs across the border hidden in the seat cushion of his truck while Hafford hid in the back seat, Hafford testified.
They would meet their supplier in the parking lot of a bar, and then Hafford would take the drugs down to the river and swim or wade across. He said that he would put a soda can or potato chip bag on the side of Route 1 so a driver would know where to pick him up.
Hafford testified that Pelletier paid $1,000 a pound for the marijuana, but sold it for between $2,400 and $2,800 a pound stateside. He also said that he was often paid in drugs rather than cash and Pelletier let Hafford live in his camp across the road from the house where Pelletier lived with his girlfriend.
Things changed in the fall, after Pelletier’s truck was searched by Customs and Border Patrol officers when he was crossing the border alone. Although the money was not discovered, the incident spooked Pelletier, Hafford testified, and Hafford began swimming the river with the cash and returning the same way with the drugs.
After Pelletier was arrested in November on state drug trafficking charges, Hafford said that he took over the operation. He testified Monday that he may have made $500,000 selling drugs, but did not make all of it working with Pelletier. Hafford said that he did not have any of the money left because he spent it all on “drugs and toys.”
Pelletier was indicted last year along with five others in connection with the alleged smuggling ring. He is charged with 15 counts that include drug conspiracy, money laundering and Social Security fraud.
If convicted, he faces a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life in federal prison and fines of up to $4 million on the drug charges alone.
Prosecutors also are seeking the forfeiture of property allegedly owned by Pelletier, including cash, real estate and vehicles that he allegedly purchased with the profits of the drug smuggling operation.
Pelletier’s co-defendants are:
. Michael Easler, 27, of St. David, indicted for drug conspiracy, money laundering, bulk cash smuggling.
. Ben Dionne, 27, of St. David, indicted for drug conspiracy.
. John “Scooch” or “Scoochy” Pascuccui, 49, of Gorham, indicted for drug conspiracy.
. Anthony Caparotta, 42, of Caribou, indicted for drug conspiracy.
. Raymond “Rocky” Fogg, 54, of Winn, indicted for drug conspiracy and Social Security fraud.
Easler has pleaded guilty to the charges and is scheduled to be sentenced in August. The other four have pleaded not guilty and are expected to be tried later this year.
Hafford testified that Easler swam the marijuana across the St. John before he got involved in Pelletier’s operation. Hafford said that Pascuccui was Pelletier’s southern Maine customer while the other three men purchased marijuana from him.