Police raid more than 20 marijuana sites in Lewiston, Auburn area

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LEWISTON — Federal authorities arrested a local man Tuesday and charged him with possession with intent to distribute marijuana and manufacturing butane hash oil, following a federal raid on more than 20 properties in the Twin Cities area.

Richard “Stitch” Daniels, 52, was charged in U.S. District Court in a complaint that alleges a drug trafficking organization grew and distributed large quantities of marijuana under the cover of Maine’s medical marijuana program, but sold marijuana to buyers who were not participants in the program and included out-of-state customers.

The raids stemmed from an investigation into a trafficking organization in Lewiston-Auburn, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

The organization also grew marijuana as a precursor to manufacturing marijuana concentrates known as butane hash oil and shatter, a product made from butane hash oil, officials said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said more than 20 search warrants were executed in Tuesday’s raids, including at Daniels’ home and garage. Agents seized more than 50 kilograms of marijuana, six mason jars filled with butane hash oil and a kilogram of shatter. Daniels’ garage contained a butane hash oil laboratory.

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If convicted, Daniels faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

Daniels appeared at U.S. District Court in Portland late Tuesday afternoon, where he was ordered held without bail by Judge Magistrate John Rich, who also set a bail and probable cause hearing for Friday morning.

Daniels, shackled and dressed in a black T-shirt and black pants, said little but indicated he may want a new lawyer soon.

He was represented during the hearing Tuesday by Neal Stillman, but Daniels told Rich he wants a lawyer who “specializes” in his type of case.

Daniels has a criminal record dating back to 1984. It includes convictions on five felonies and 15 misdemeanors, including five assault charges and two for drug trafficking.

Butane hash oil, known as “shatter” or “dabs,” is a marijuana concentrate, according to drug agents. Daniels made the oil in a garage at 1310 Sabattus St., across a driveway from his home. Agents watched him “regularly” at both buildings, according to a federal affidavit found in court records.

Daniels was supplied marijuana by the Twin Cities growing organization; he sold it in bulk to out-of-state customers and extracted the oil from it, according to the affidavit.

The oil is made through a process where butane, a solvent, is used to extract THC, a hallucinogenic drug found in cannabis from the marijuana plant.

In Daniels’ home, authorities seized roughly 27 sheets weighing more than a kilogram of what they believed to be “shatter,” or hard hash oil. In his garage, agents seized roughly 14 sheets of “shatter” in an oven.

They also seized a half-dozen mason jars filled with an oil believed to be hash oil, the affidavit said.

Daniels had been disqualified as a participant in the Maine Medical Marijuana program for a prior drug offense, the affidavit said.

State and federal law enforcement officers conducted simultaneous raids in multiple locations in the Twin Cities Tuesday morning, including at a private home on Danville Corner Road in Auburn and at a warehouse at 1830 Lisbon St. in Lewiston.

The Lisbon Street location is also home to Euro Motors Auto Sales.

At the warehouse fronting Gould Road, officers were seen piling freshly-pulled marijuana plants outside the building just after 10 a.m.

According to city records, the principal owner of that company is Timothy Veilleux of Auburn.

A police spokesman said no arrests had been made at that address since November 2016, when Veilleux purchased the property, which is shown in city records to be owned by 1830 Lisbon Street LLC.

Marijuana plants were also being pulled from a building at 555 Lincoln St. in Lewiston and stacked on a receiving dock outside, and at a garage at 17 Bridge Street, also in Lewiston, where they are being piled in the driveway. The garage is accessible by a private road tucked between houses located at 13 and 19 Bridge St.

The Lincoln Street business — Ben Alpren Machine & Tool — is also owned by Veilleux. The garage on Bridge Street is owned by Comvest Inc., another company owned by Veilleux.

Officers also visited a property on Merrow Road in Auburn, and were seen at a drywall business on Sabattus Street.

According to city of Auburn permits, 230 Merrow Road received a permit in August 2015 for a $95,000 project to create a grow room inside an existing building.

At the home on Danville Corner Road, officers could be seen prepping multiple cars for towing, including a Lamborghini Huracan, valued at close to $200,000, and a late-model Nissan GT-R, valued at about $175,000.

According to city records, that property is owned by Brian Bilodeau, who is an accomplished amateur golfer and a regular competitor in the Maine Amateur.

Bilodeau is the principal owner of Brian Bilodeau LLC, which is listed as a company that does business in automotive re-sale and as a caregiver, according to state records.

Veilleux was convicted of conspiracy to possess 3.95 kilograms of cocaine with the intent to distribute in 1990. He later appealed his 100-month sentence to the U.S. Court of Appeals, which upheld the sentence, including a $15,000 fine.

In 2000, Veilleux was convicted of disorderly conduct in Androscoggin County Superior Court and fined $100. A year later, he was convicted of the same charge in Lewiston District Court.

Bilodeau has no criminal record, but does have a series of driving convictions, including speeding in 2014 and 2017, two convictions of failure to display valid registration plate and operating a motor vehicle with a passenger who had an open container of alcohol.

A check of city records showed that in September 2016, the city issued an electrical permit to Tim Veilleux to add 1,000 amp service for a three-room medical marijuana facility at 1830 Lisbon St.

Three months later, the same address received a change of use permit from the city for marijuana cultivation and processing.

In May 2017, Veillieux received another city permit to add 54 240-volt outlets and 48 120-volt outlets there.

In December 2015, the city granted 17 Bridge St. a change of use permit for medical marijuana cultivation that listed Tim Veilleux as the property owner and Gregory Pelletier as the applicant.

In another change of use permit issued in June 2016, again for medical marijuana, Brian Bilodeau was listed as the caregiver applicant.

The investigation was conducted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigations; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the FBI; the Maine State Police; and the Lewiston, Auburn, Windham, Biddeford and Scarborough Police Departments, authorities said.

Eric Cousens, Auburn’s deputy director of economic and community development, said Tuesday that there has been a “substantial increase” in medical marijuana growing operations over the last few years.

Marijuana caregivers are required to gain a state license but that information is confidential and a full list of operations is not shared with local municipalities, which Cousens said is “frustrating” for the city.

What the city is aware of, he said, is that between 30-40 permits for either building, electrical or plumbing have been pulled in Auburn for medical marijuana growing, but the city does not know if they are licensed caregivers.

During an Auburn City Council workshop on Feb. 5, Police Lt. Timothy Cougle said the city has run into problems with local growers bending the rules already in place in the city, causing “significant safety concerns.”

According to Cougle, there are 29 grow operations in commercial space in the city. He said “a lot of people are setting up shop here, and are invested here,” getting in on the ground level and ready for when retail operations are allowed.

At the time, Cousens said that while many of the large-scale industrial grow operations have not been an issue, city staff is seeing more issues at small-scale operations in multifamily housing.

Auburn is also home to one of eight state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in Maine.

Arnaud Dumas de Rauly, co-founder of The Blinc Group, a New York based incubator for innovations that bring emerging vape and cannabis technologies to market, said Tuesday that raids like this are not increasing nationally.

“This has no link at all, except maybe going after illegal cannabis operation, But, once again, we don’t have more information on that. What I find a bit despicable is that I believe you’re innocent until proven guilty and ripping away all those plants, I believe, isn’t the right way to do things before having a trial and before having a jury decide on exactly what’s been going on,” he said.

“Maybe it’s an illegal operation. In that case, I would commend what’s happened because illegal operations are going to be what everyone is looking at. The less illegal operations we have, the more legitimate we are as an industry.

“But if this was legal in any way, shape or form and these plants were torn out, there’s going to be a lot of noise around that.,” he said.

Twenty-nine states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes.

Staff writers Andrew Rice, Kathryn Skelton, Lindsay Tice, Edward D. Murphy and Judith Meyer contributed to this report.

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