PORTLAND — A 54-year-old Massachusetts man who said he bought pounds of pot on repeated trips to Lewiston to help treat symptoms of his Lyme disease and for ailing friends was sentenced Tuesday in federal court to six months in prison.

U.S. District Court Judge George Z. Singal told John Valdes of Amesbury, Massachusetts, that his criminal conduct potentially put in jeopardy Maine’s medical marijuana program, knowing what he did was illegal. At the same time, Singal noted that Valdes was an upstanding citizen in his community and dedicated family man.

The Lewiston man whom Valdes visited at least twice to make purchases each time of six pounds of marijuana, Richard “Stitch” Daniels, also 54, pleaded guilty in November to drug charges stemming from a federal raid on more than 20 locations in and around the Twin Cities that resulted in the indictment of more than a dozen defendants.

Daniels faces from five to 40 years in prison for the felony of conspiracy to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 or more marijuana plants and 100 or more kilograms of marijuana.

The aim of the Feb. 27, 2018, raids was to bust a medical marijuana growing operation that for more than two years had illegally sold surplus pot and derivatives, according to federal prosecutors who alleged that a broad drug-trafficking organization grew and distributed large amounts of marijuana under the guise of — but in violation of — Maine’s medical marijuana program in the Twin Cities area. The organization sold marijuana to buyers who were not participants in the program and included out-of-state customers, according to prosecutors.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Joyce said Tuesday that Valdes was not the “most culpable” of the defendants netted in the alleged conspiracy, but he nevertheless showed “blatant disregard” for Maine’s medical marijuana law that doesn’t permit sales outside of Maine.

Joyce also pointed to Valdes’ two previous marijuana-related convictions, one of which landed him in federal prison.

“Hopefully, he’s gotten the message at this point: the behavior can’t continue,” Joyce said.

Valdes told the judge he had obtained a medical marijuana prescription in Massachusetts to help relieve his Lyme disease symptoms and side effects from prescribed antibiotics, but had been unable to find a dispensary in that state.

In court papers, Joyce said agents who conducted surveillance on Daniels’ Sabattus Street home on Aug. 24, 2017, saw a black Chevrolet Suburban with Massachusetts registration arrive, then leave more than 40 minutes later. The SUV was stopped in New Hampshire, where Valdes was found with six pounds of pot and more than $15,000 in cash.

About a month later, on Sept. 29, 2017, agents saw Daniels load a large black garbage bag into the trunk of a rented white Dodge sedan with Texas registration. Agents stopped the car in New Hampshire on I-95 where Valdes was found with six pounds of marijuana and a pizza box that contained “marijuana concentrate.”

The quantities in each seizure were “consistent with distribution” and not personal use, Joyce wrote in court documents.

Valdes pleaded guilty to two counts in the grand jury’s superseding indictment of possession with intent to distribute marijuana, both Class D felonies.

After serving prison time, Valdes will be on supervised release for two years during which he may not have any marijuana or other illegal drugs and he must enroll in a drug and alcohol therapy program.

Valdes, who earned a bachelor’s degree and works for a high-end tech company said Tuesday he regretted his actions and has learned his lesson.

“I definitely made a serious mistake,” he told the judge. “I’m never going to use marijuana again.”

Federal drug agents visit a home on Sabattus Street in Lewiston in February 2018 in connection with a marijuana distribution and manufacturing investigation. Christopher Williams/Sun Journal file photo

 


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