Judge orders mastermind behind state's most sophisticated pot farm back to prison

·2 min read

May 7—The man convicted of masterminding the state's most sophisticated pot farm using undocumented workers returned to federal prison Wednesday after a federal judge revoked his bail and refused to grant him a compassionate release due to health problems.

Malcolm French, 59, of Enfield had been free on bail since April 1, 2020. He and codefendant Rodney Russell, 57, of Thomaston were released on $5,000 unsecured bail while their appeal was pending before the First U.S. District Court of Appeals in Boston. That appeal was rejected in October when French and Russell sought compassionate release due to health issues.

The men were convicted by a jury in 2014 of running a Washington County marijuana operation in an unorganized township.

In March, Woodcock ordered Russell to return to prison but sought more information about French's health problems and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons' ability to treat them. Both men are incarcerated at the Federal Medical Center Devens in Ayers, Massachusetts, according to the bureau.

The judge concluded that French, like Russell, did not qualify for compassionate release and that the prison system could adequately treat his asthma and chronic fluid on his lungs.

"The court concludes the defendant's health does not pose an extraordinary and compelling reason warranting a sentence reduction, and the seriousness of his offenses, the relatively short time he has served, and the need for the sentence served to fulfill the sentence imposed preclude his release," Woodcock said.

The judge also found that the coronavirus vaccine would be adequate protection against infection in prison.

French and Russell may apply for compassionate release at a later time.

French was serving a sentence of 14 years and seven months at the Federal Correctional Institution in Loretto, Pennsylvania, located about 75 miles east of Pittsburgh when he was released last year. He was due to be released in about six years.

Russell was serving a sentence of 12 years and seven months when he was released. He had about five years left to serve.

Attorneys for Russell and French argued in court documents that they qualified for "compassionate release" under the First Step Act passed by Congress in 2018. To qualify, a judge must find there are "extraordinary and compelling reasons" for it.

Those include a terminal illness or serious medical condition and family circumstances. Compassionate release is also an option if an inmate is over the age of 65 with serious health deterioration and has served at least 10 years of his sentence.

French and Russell were found guilty in January 2014 of operating an illegal pot operation from which the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency seized 2,943 mature marijuana plants. The farm was discovered on Sept. 22, 2009, in a 10-acre swamp on 22,000 acres of land in Township 37 owned by Haynes Timberland Inc.

French was part owner of the company.

Township 37 is located in Washington County near Wesley.