The recent “pot conspiracy” in Maine makes for some interesting reading. It also provides a stark reminder to legitimate cannabis entrepreneurs that the illegal cannabis market still remains an issue — especially when local law enforcement, state prosecutors and elected officials use it to line their own pockets.
The Maine illegal medical marijuana ring became so complicated, it’s a wonder it lasted as long as it did. As things stand, federal officials have charged 12 people in the case. But that’s only after they successfully ran an illegal operation that prosecutors say brought in more than $13 million in six years.
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Based on the timeline provided by federal officials, the illegal Maine operation started in 2016, the same year that Maine voters approved recreational marijuana (although sales would not begin until many years later). However, medical marijuana was already legal in the state.
All the following information comes from a 14-count criminal complaint that prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed in federal court. It charges 12 people with a variety of crimes. Some of the charges include:
Prosecutors filed the charges after one of the people involved, 69-year-old Randal Cousineau, pled guilty to conspiring to possess and distribute more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana and 1,000 marijuana plants.
Prosecutors said he acted as “primary financier and 50% partner with a co-conspirator” in an illegal medical marijuana operation run out of Farmington, a small town of less than 10,000 people about 80 miles west of Bangor.
From Farmington, 41-year-old Lucas Sirois became “the leader of the criminal organization,” according to the complaint. The complaint states: “Sirois structured his operations to appear as though they complied with Maine’s medical marijuana regime while he regularly sold bulk marijuana on the illicit market, including more than $1 million worth of marijuana for out-of-state distribution between 2018 and 2019.”
To hide the operation, the complaint alleges that Sirois laundered drug proceeds through “a complex corporate structure.” The complaint states that he also “lied to his financial institution about the nature of his business and the source of funds that flowed through his accounts.”
This also involved Sirois’ tax preparer, according to the complaint, who “filed false income tax returns to hide hundreds of thousands of dollars in income, resulting in tax loss to the United States in excess of $400,000.”
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As if the conspiracy already wasn’t complicated enough, it also allegedly expanded to include public officials.
In the complaint, prosecutors allege that two Franklin County sheriff’s deputies obtained confidential law enforcement information for Sirois that “he used to benefit his illegal business.” In exchange, Sirois gave the two deputies two new cars and ownership interest in the business. Later, the two also provided information on the ongoing federal investigation, the complaint states.
But that’s not all. A Franklin County assistant district attorney initially tipped off one of the deputies about the federal investigation, according to the complaint. The attorney did this after two other law enforcement officers - a Wilton police officer and a then-Oxford County deputy sheriff - “used government databases” to confirm they were being surveilled by law enforcement.
Later, all three - the assistant district attorney, the Wilton officer and the Oxford County deputy - “destroyed electronic evidence of their wrongdoing” to conceal it from investigators, the complaint alleges.
A sixth public official also became involved. According to the complaint, a Town of Rangeley selectman “accepted tens of thousands of dollars in cash payments from Sirois, including investment in his internet start-up company, in exchange for advocating for Sirois’ preferred agenda in town government, including voting to advance a marijuana ordinance that Sirois himself had drafted to a town referendum.”
While this was happening, Sirois paid the selectman thousands of dollars a week to manage his marijuana businesses, a conflict Burgess never publicly disclosed, according to the complaint.
It all makes for interesting reading and maybe the basis for a future Netflix or Amazon Prime movie. It also provides legitimate cannabis businesspeople and prosecutors a road map for how illegal operations can thrive - at least, for a time.
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