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A dozen people face federal charges following investigation into marijuana grow operation

19 mins read
Maine State Police vehicles outside of a former shoe factory at the corner of High Street and Cascade Leisure Park Road on July 21, 2020. Federal investigators served search and seizure warrants on a number of locations throughout Franklin County.

FARMINGTON – Unsealed court documents have shed additional details on the federal investigation into a purported industrial marijuana growing operation that has led to a dozen individuals being charged with felony drug, money laundering, bank fraud, tampering and tax evasion charges, among others.

Information about the investigation, which was linked to a series of law enforcement searches conducted throughout Franklin County on July 21, 2020, became available after one of the individuals identified as a co-conspirator, Randal Cousineau, 69, pleaded guilty on Wednesday in federal court to participating in a conspiracy to illegally cultivate and sell marijuana. Cousineau was identified as the “primary financier” of a cultivation facility in Farmington, specifically the old shoe shop located at 347 High Street. The majority of the processed marijuana seized by federal investigators on July 21, 2020, 469 of the 551 total kilograms listed in a court document, was taken from that location.

A dozen defendants have been charged in connection with the marijuana growing operation or for an associated crime. The defendants made their initial appearances in Bangor Thursday and Friday. No one has been indicted in relation to the case, and most of the individuals facing charges were released on personal recognizance bonds last week.

According to an affidavit filed with the federal district court by Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent James Hendry, the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Internal Revenue Services have been investigating a conspiracy relating to the industrial cultivation of marijuana in the Farmington area since 2019, as well as the alleged related laundering of the money garnered through the conspiracy. Per the affidavit, federal law enforcement believes that Lucas Sirois, 41 of Farmington, is the leader of an organization that ran multiple marijuana grow operations throughout Franklin County, while utilizing falsified bank documents to prevent detection by financial institutions. Additionally, according to the affidavit, “a significant portion” of the marijuana was exported out of state. A cooperating witness with the federal investigation who worked out of the High Street shoe shop location estimated that approximately 75 percent of the marijuana they cultivated went to licensed dispensaries and stores in Maine with the remaining 25 percent sold on the black market.

Sirois’ attorney, Timothy Parlatore, said that his client had created a business and had tried to follow state laws.

“[Sirois] ran a business,” Parlatore said. “He created jobs. He helped people. He saw an industry that was open to people like him. He saw an opportunity to get his family ahead, that’s a good thing.”

Parlatore described the federal investigation’s cooperating witness as a disgruntled employee.

“The cooperating witness is someone [Sirois] fired because he found out she was committing criminal acts. She was disgruntled and decided to run to the DOJ,” he said.

In the affidavit, Hendry identified two co-defendants: Brandon Dagnese, 27, of Scarborough, and Ryan Nezol, 38, of Farmington, as being responsible for “black market” sales. Dagnese, who is a convicted felon and therefore not eligible to work within the bounds of the state’s medical marijuana program, was engaged in more than $1 million in these transactions, Hendry wrote in the affidavit, while Nezol exported marijuana to New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

As part of the investigation, agents learned on March 15, 2020 that Nezol planned to sell marijuana to two unnamed co-conspirators who intended to travel from New York to Maine. New Hampshire State Police conducted a traffic stop in New Hampshire when the individuals were returning to New York and found approximately four pounds of marijuana. Investigators reviewed interceptions from Nezol’s cellphone after the marijuana was seized, Hendry said, with one of the individuals informing Nezol that they had been pulled over. Nezol reportedly texted “erase my #” to the individual and, a few minutes later: “I’m sure somebody just donate it to u. It must be legit right. Hope your [sic] okay good luck.”

“In addition to the black-market out-of-state transactions described above,” the affidavit reads, “the Sirois Organization’s marijuana businesses were operated in violation of Maine’s medical marijuana laws then-in force. Among other violations Sirois engaged in the industrial manufacture of marijuana at multiple large grow locations, and not only at the single authorized location registered with the Office of Marijuana Policy.” Other violations cited in the document included too many plants, prohibited growing as a collective, utilizing employees concealed as individual caregivers and employing non-registered caregivers and prior felons.

Sirois’ attorney disagreed, saying his client attempted to follow the Maine law.

“This is a case where he did everything he could to ensure was fully covered by the Maine law. DOJ should not be prosecuting. The government should respect the decision of Maine voters to do what they want to do in their own state,” Parlatore said.

The proceeds from the sale of marijuana was funneled through shell companies, the affidavit alleges, into the purchase of property and luxury vehicles and into joint ventures with some co-conspirators. According to a financial analysis by federal law enforcement, the organization is believed to have used more than 23 bank accounts, the majority of which were in the name of various corporate entities. From 2014 through July 2020, the organization is believed to have moved approximately $13.6 million in cash through those accounts, Hendry wrote.

An example of a joint venture cited in the affidavit was with former Rangeley Selectman David Burgess, 53, who investigators believe had a “managerial role” in the organization. Sirois provided the Rangeley Internet Company, an entity controlled by Burgess, with approximately $224,000 in cash between March 2018 and July 21, 2020. That represented 84 percent of the company’s capital funding.

“In exchange, [Burgess] advanced [Sirois’] interests in his capacity as a Rangeley Selectman, including voting to advance to a referendum a marijuana ordinance that [Sirois] himself had authored and that would loosen restrictions on marijuana operations in the town of Rangeley,” Hendry wrote.

On March 18, 2019, Burgess moved to add a marijuana ordinance on the town’s warrant for a town vote in June; that motion passed by a vote of 3 to 2, with Burgess in favor. That ordinance was later rejected by residents at the June 2019 vote, which led to another effort by Burgess to bring the issue back before the town in November. Burgess is further accused of proposing or seconding motions that would have the effect of relaxing zoning and other restrictions relating to marijuana businesses in Rangeley.

Sirois is also alleged to have paid active-duty law enforcement officers to utilize law enforcement resources to benefit his business. Sirois formed a marijuana distribution company with Bradley Scovil, 33, of Rangeley, and Derrick Doucette, 29, of Jay, in the late summer of 2019. Prior to that, both men were employed as deputies with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. According to the affidavit, Scovil and Doucette were “routinely present at the Shoe Shop at the invitation of [Sirois],” including while they were with FCSO.

“During this time, in about September 2019 through November 2019, [Scovil] and [Doucette] were given a large office inside the Shoe Shop,” Hendry wrote in the affidavit. “[Scovil] and [Doucette] frequented the Shoe Shop while wearing their sheriff’s deputy uniforms, and carrying their service weapons.”

While employed by the FCSO, both deputies were provided with key access to the shoe shop location, according to the affidavit, and performed various tasks for Sirois. Examples cited in the affidavit included having Doucette pick up approximately 12 pounds of marijuana from a Bridgton dispensary and delivering it to the shoe shop, as well as having Scovil drive through the parking lot of the shoe shop and run license plates to assist Sirois in determining who he was employing and who his customers were.

The affidavit includes communications through Facebook between Scovil and Sirois on Oct. 7, 2019, in which Scovil wrote: “serious they are on to us. Someone typed a report one of the days we were at the shoe shop, locked it, and we can’t read it or see what it’s about but they tagged your name in it. It is only a matter of time before they haul us in and see what the deal is.”

“Interesting… someone must have recognized your vehicles…” Sirois wrote in response, according to the affidavit.

Scovil wrote back: “Maybe? We check our own names periodically to see if people are looking us up, you up, running our plates, etc.”

According to the affidavit, a search of Scovil’s phone later located a photograph taken on Oct. 8, 2019, showing a ‘Field Interview Report’ pertaining to an investigation of Sirois. That document included a recommendation that its contents be forwarded to a DEA agent investigating Sirois.

According to investigators, on Oct. 17, 2019, Maia USA Inc., a Sirois-owned corporation, purchased two 2020 Ford Explorers for approximately $45,500 each; those vehicles were later registered by Scovil and Doucette and driven by them from Oct. 17 through July 21, 2020. Sirois was listed as a co-buyer. Hendry noted in the affidavit that Sirois had purchased the vehicles for Scovil and Doucette when those men were still deputies with FCSO.

Sheriff Scott Nichols said via email last week that the FCSO was aware of the investigation and was cooperating with the federal authorities.

“Now this is in the hands of the court to decide guilt or innocence,” he wrote.

Both deputies resigned from the FCSO on Nov. 25, 2019. In late 2019, Scovil and Doucette formed a marijuana distribution company with Sirois called Narrow Gauge Distributors, Inc. Despite that, investigators allege, both men continued to leverage law enforcement contacts to obtain information.

In April 2020, Scovil, Doucette and Sirois began to suspect that they were under surveillance. Scovil and Doucette reached out to other, active members of law enforcement, including Wilton Police Officer Kevin Lemay and then-Oxford County Deputy James McLamb, both of whom are named as co-defendants in the complaint. Lemay and McLamb allegedly agreed to run license plate numbers of the surveilling vehicles and then deleted text messages they exchanged with Scovil and Doucette.

Kayla Alves, an assistant district attorney in the Franklin County District Attorney’s Office, is alleged to have informed Scovil that investigators were looking into the matter. As a result of that information provided to Scovil, investigators allege, Scovil contacted Sirois and alerted him that they were under investigation. Per the affidavit, Alves also eventually deleted text messages she exchanged with Scovil.

Hendry wrote in the affidavit that Alves admitted telling Scovil that he was under investigation but denied knowing he was under federal investigation.

Also charged in relation to the federal investigation is Kenneth Allen, 48 of Farmington. Allen prepared Sirois’ tax returns from 2016 through 2019, as well as returns for a number of different corporations associated with the organization, including Narrow Gauge Holdings, Maia New England and CG Bio-Genomics.

Allen reportedly told IRS agents that, while meeting with Burgess, he had suggested creating fictitious historical transactions to move money from Sirois’ profitable businesses to non-profitable ones, for the purpose of reducing his federal tax liability for 2017. Allen also reportedly admitted that Sirois’ 2018 returns were also false: “specifically that [Allen] had filed a false Schedule C for the Homegrown Connection (a business wholly owned by [Sirois]), and a false Schedule E for Narrow Gauge Real Estate (another wholly owned [Sirois] business) … which detailed false business transactions that did not occur in 2018.”

Homegrown Connection should have recorded a profit of $105,659 in 2018, according to the affidavit, but instead reported a loss of $128,279. Similarly, Narrow Gauge Real Estate should have reported a profit of $314,341 for 2018, but instead reported “legal expenditures” of $308,000 which effectively zeroed out the profits. Those expenses do not appear in the company’s books, the affidavit indicates.

According to the IRS analysis, Hendry wrote, Lucas and his wife Alisa Sirois’ income for 2017 should have been $712,784 but was reported at $112,801; while their true income for 2018 should have been $674,266, rather than the $87,799 that was actually reported.

“As a result, [Allen], [Burgess] and [Sirois] fraudulently deprived the federal treasury of taxes due and owing of approximately $237,659 for 2017 and $193,736 for 2018,” Hendry wrote.

On July 21, 2020, approximately 50 search and seizure warrants were executed on locations throughout Franklin County, including the shoe shop located on High Street, the old toy factory on the Avon Valley Road and several others associated with the co-defendants. In total, federal investigators listed $425,700, 551 kilograms of processed marijuana and 4,739 plants in seizures. The United States Attorney for the state of Maine has filed a civil in rem action to seize a dozen properties.

Lucas Sirois, Burgess, Scovil, Doucette, Alisa Sirois, his father Robert Sirois, Brandon Dagnese and Ryan Nezol have been charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances. Burgess, Lucas and Alisa Sirois also face the charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Burgess and Lucas Sirois are named in the third count, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, relating to the alleged lobbying by Burgess in Rangeley. Sirois is also named in the fourth count, also conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, along with Scovil, Doucette and McLamb.

Lucas and Alisa Sirois are named in the fifth count, bank fraud, and Lucas Sirois, Scovil and Doucette are named in the sixth count, which is also bank fraud. Count seven, also alleging bank fraud, names Burgess.

Alves is named in counts eight and nine, alleging tampering with proceedings and tampering with documents. Lemay and McLamb are named in count 10 and 11, respectively, both for tampering with documents.

Counts 12, 13 and 14 relate to the tax fraud allegations. Specifically, Lucas Sirois, Burgess and Allen have been charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States and impede and impair the IRS; Lucas Sirois has been charged with tax evasion and Allen has also been charged with tax fraud.

Cousineau pleaded guilty to conspiring to possess and distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana and 1,000 marijuana plants. The charge carries a maximum fine of $10 million and life sentence; a federal judge will decide the actual sentence following the completion of a pre-sentence investigation report by the U.S. Probation Office.

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