County man found guilty of smuggling; Michael J. Pelletier faces at least 10 years for role in pot distribution ring

This story was published on July 21, 2007 on Page C1 in all editions of the Bangor Daily News

BANGOR – A federal jury late Thursday found an Aroostook County man guilty on more than a dozen counts related to a multimillion-dollar marijuana distribution operation.

He was convicted of drug smuggling, money laundering and Social Security fraud after a weeklong trial in U.S. District Court.

Michael J. Pelletier, 56, of St. David could spend the rest of his life in a federal prison.

A sentencing date has not been set, but on the drug charges alone Pelletier faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life in federal prison and fines of up to $4 million.

The jury also found that Pelletier should forfeit three residential pieces of property, two cars, a tractor and more than $20,000 in cash.

Defense attorney Matthew Erickson of Brewer declined Friday to comment.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel Casey, who prosecuted the case, said Friday, “Obviously we had a very attentive jury who paid close attention to all the evidence and returned verdicts compelled by the evidence.”

The jury of four men and eight women deliberated about 41/2 hours on the criminal charges, Casey said. After hearing instructions from U.S. District Judge John Woodcock, jurors deliberated for another hour before announcing their decision about the forfeitures.

Pelletier’s former girlfriend, Kendra Cyr, 44, of Madawaska, and Adam Hafford, 37, of Westfield, who swam the St. John River with more than 60 pounds of marijuana in duffel bags on his back, testified against Pelletier.

Both were granted immunity from prosecution.

Cyr told the jury that when she lived with Pelletier, who uses a wheelchair, between the spring of 2003 and the fall of 2004, his only source of legitimate income was a monthly $550 Social Security check. She said that Pelletier had stacks of cash hidden in the house.

While Cyr lived with him, Pelletier made a partial payment on a house with $30,000 and bought personal watercraft, an all-terrain vehicle, horses and real estate – all with cash proceeds from his marijuana distribution network, which stretched from the St. John Valley to Portland, she said.

Hafford, who is serving a 10-year federal sentence on a gun charge, testified that while he and Pelletier were serving sentences, 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 and help distribute them to customers in southern Maine when he was released a few months later.

He also told the jury that Pelletier paid $1,000 a pound for the marijuana, but sold it for between $2,400 and $2,800 a pound stateside. Hafford testified 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 Customs and Border Patrol officers searched Pelletier’s truck 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, 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 was charged with 15 counts and convicted on 14. The judge dismissed one before closing arguments were made.

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.

They are scheduled to be tried together on September in federal court in Bangor.

Easler has pleaded guilty to the charges and is scheduled to be sentenced next month. 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.

Archie Ladner, 42, who was indicted separately, was found not guilty last month by a federal jury on drug charges. Ladner was accused of being Hafford’s driver.