Man in Wheelchair Sentenced to Life In Prison for Pot Smuggling

Maine, USA – An Aroostook County man convicted on more than a dozen charges including drug smuggling, money laundering and Social Security fraud was sentenced Tuesday, January 22nd, 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 5½ 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.

– Article from the January 23rd edition of the Bangor Daily News

OPED: It’s Time To Legalize Marijuana

By Bob St. Peter
Bangor Daily News
12 Feb 2008

While reading the Bangor Daily News’ Jan. 23 front page story “Smuggler given life sentence,” I tried to think of all the people I have met who have used marijuana. I couldn’t; there are too many. So instead I found myself trying to understand the rationale for condemning a man to life in prison for selling a plant, but I couldn’t do that, either.

According to a 1998 report by the Maine Task Force on Drug Abuse, approximately 95,000 Maine adults routinely use marijuana. The report also estimated that 65 percent of adults ages 26 to 34 and 55 percent ages 35 to 50 report using marijuana at least once in their lifetime. By now the 26- to 34-year-olds are in the 35 to 50 age group, likely increasing the overall percentage of people in Maine who have used marijuana, assuming the rate of marijuana users has stayed constant over the last 10 years.

What do these statistics tell us, other than what we already know ( people in Maine smoke pot )? Well, for starters, they tell us that there is a pretty good chance that you or someone in your household has used marijuana. I count myself in both categories. You?

For many Mainers, selling marijuana puts food on the table and pays heating bills when work is scarce. It fixes the car and pays for school and health care. Marijuana is Maine’s No. 1 cash crop for a reason — it provides small-scale, eco-friendly economic development at its most grass-roots, and most successful.

There are reasons marijuana is Maine’s ( illegal ) drug of choice, but if the user is a consenting adult and doesn’t drive, operate heavy machinery, or risk the health or welfare of others while intoxicated, is it any of our business?

During Michael Pelletier’s sentencing, U.S. District Judge John Woodcock said, “It is striking that you ran a sophisticated drug operation from your wheelchair. That makes the court wonder what you could have done if you turned to legitimate endeavors.” Like perhaps selling beer, tobacco or pharmaceuticals? Even though alcohol, cigarettes and doctor’s prescriptions kill more people each year and count more addicts than marijuana, success in those fields yield six- and seven-figure salaries, tailored suits and expense accounts. Michael Pelletier gets life in prison. Where is the sense in this?

It is one thing to personally object to the use of marijuana; it is another thing altogether to imprison people for growing, using or even selling it. Hundreds of thousands of Mainers have used this plant, yet the fear of persecution and social stigmatization based on stereotypes and caricatures keeps us from speaking out. It is our collective silence that keeps Michael Pelletier and other nonviolent marijuana offenders in jail.

It is time to take the SWAT teams and threats of prison off the table and have an open, honest dialogue about marijuana in Maine. Through this process, I am confident that we will discover our compassion, realize our humanity and, in the end, assert our common sense. Then we can set about the work of reforming Maine’s laws to reflect marijuana’s contribution to our economy and its legitimate role in our culture. It is time to end marijuana prohibition in Maine.