BANGOR – An Aroostook County man convicted on more than a dozen charges including drug smuggling, money laundering and Social Security fraud was sentenced Tuesday to life in federal prison.
Michael Pelletier, 56, of St. David also was ordered to repay the nearly $84,000 in Social Security payments he had received over a 30-year period and to forfeit the more than $4.8 million he earned from trafficking in marijuana. He also was ordered to forfeit three residential pieces of property, two cars, a tractor and more than $20,000 in cash.
Pelletier collected between $400 and $500 a month in disability payments because he has been confined to a wheelchair since he was injured in an accident at age 11.
“It is striking that you ran a sophisticated drug operation from your wheelchair,” U.S. District Judge John Woodcock said Tuesday. “That makes the court wonder what you could have done if you had turned to legitimate endeavors.”
Pelletier showed no emotion as he was sentenced and did not address the court.
It was his previous convictions in state court on drug trafficking charges and the amount of marijuana he distributed that earned Pelletier a life sentence. He was convicted in 2000 and 2001 in Aroostook County Superior Court on felony drug charges. Once the federal jury convicted him of conspiracy to possess marijuana with the intent to distribute more than a ton of marijuana, the mandatory life sentence took effect.
“It is not easy for any judge to impose a sentence of life,” Woodcock told Pelletier. “It is a somber, grave and tragic judicial duty. I do so today because it is my duty to do so.”
The Pelletier case appears to be the first time Woodcock has handed down a life sentence since he was appointed to the federal bench in 2003.
“The government truly does appreciate the gravity of the moment that is upon us,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel Casey said in supporting the imposition of a life sentence. “The government takes no pleasure in sending a man to prison for life.”
Pelletier, according to Casey, worked with members of the Canadian Hells Angels to bring marijuana across the border and distribute it throughout the state. He also recruited others into the drug trafficking ring, the prosecutor said.
Casey, however, saved his harshest criticism for Pelletier’s collection of Social Security while he made millions of dollars selling drugs.
“The audacity of his asking the federal government for help while selling hundreds of pounds of marijuana,” the prosecutor said. “He bilked the system and took money away from people who really needed it.”
Casey said after the hearing that it was unlikely that Pelletier would be able to pay the restitution or the $4.8 million forfeiture. The money made from the sale of his properties and vehicles will go to support law enforcement efforts to curb drug trafficking, he said.
Pelletier’s attorney, Matthew Erickson of Brewer, said the conviction and sentence would be appealed to the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.
Erickson told the judge that his client suffers from “serious health problems that probably make a life sentence academic.” The attorney said that the drug smuggling operation was “not very sophisticated.”
Pelletier was convicted in July after a weeklong jury trial in U.S. District Court in Bangor. The jury of four men and eight women deliberated about 51/2 hours on the criminal charges and the forfeiture order before announcing its verdict.
His former girlfriend, Kendra Cyr, 44, of Madawaska, and Adam Hafford, 37 of Westfield, who was one of two men 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 on drug charges. Hafford is serving a 10-year federal sentence on a gun charge.
Pelletier was indicted in 2006 along with five others in connection with the drug smuggling ring. Pelletier’s co-defendants are:
. Michael Easler, 28, 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, 50, 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.
Dionne, Pascuccui, Caparotta and Fogg are scheduled to be tried jointly in April in federal court in Bangor.
Easler was sentenced in August to 12 years and one month in federal prison after pleading guilty to the charges.
Archie Ladner, 42, of Easton, who was indicted separately, was found not guilty on drug charges last year by a federal jury. Ladner was accused of being Hafford’s driver.