Man pleads guilty in Maine pot-growing operationAP , Associated Press
Jul. 30, 2013 5:31 PM ET
BANGOR, Maine (AP) — A Mexican man accused of overseeing a large marijuana-growing operation using migrant workers in the wilderness of eastern Maine pleaded guilty to federal charges on Tuesday.
Moises Soto, 53, of Nuevo Leon, Mexico, was one of five men and a timber company indicted in September on charges stemming from a 2009 raid in which drug agents uprooted nearly 3,000 marijuana plants in Township 37 in Washington County.
Under an agreement with prosecutors, Soto pleaded guilty to conspiracy to grow more than 1,000 marijuana plants and to one count of harboring a worker who entered the country illegally. Soto, who has been detained since his arrest at the Texas border in March, can appeal his sentence if it exceeds four years in prison.
Defense lawyer Hunter Tzovarras said Tuesday that his client pleaded guilty to put the matter behind him.
"He wanted to take responsibility for his role and didn't see any reason to push the issue to trial," Tzovarras said. "He wants to get this over and put it behind him."
The other defendants are due to stand trial in January, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel Casey.
Named in the indictment were Haynes Timberland Inc., the West Enfield-based company that owns land where the marijuana was grown, and several individuals, including Haynes shareholder Malcolm French.
The defendants were accused of running a sophisticated operation in which marijuana was grown and stored in a fenced compound with the help of migrant workers. Soto, for his part, was a U.S. citizen who became familiar with Maine as a seasonal blueberry worker, Tzovarras said.
People involved in the operation set fire to buildings used as dormitories and fled after a police plane flew over the site in 2009.
The indictment said the government planned to seek forfeiture of Haynes' timberland and its assets, including land in Township 37. If convicted, the individuals charged in the case could face lengthy sentences and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.