BANGOR, Maine — Roger Belanger, 58, of Corinna and his daughter, Kelli Mujo, 40, of Wellington and Central Falls, Rhode Island, were found guilty Friday in U.S. District Court of running a drug distribution ring for a dozen years in the Dexter area.
A jury of eight women and four men deliberated for 2½ hours before finding the duo guilty on all counts. The trial began Monday before U.S. District Judge Jon Levy.
Belanger and Mujo each was charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with the intent to distribute at least 5 kilograms, or 11 pounds, of cocaine and an unspecified amount of oxycodone and with using or maintaining a drug-involved place between Jan. 1, 2002, and Nov. 22, 2014.
Jurors also decided Belanger should forfeit $6,783 seized by police on Nov. 21, 2014.
Neither father nor daughter reacted when the verdict was read.
Levy ordered that Belanger and Mujo be held without bail pending sentencing. The defendants had been free on bail with restrictive conditions that included electronic monitoring and home detention. A sentencing date has not been set.
Belanger and Mujo face between 10 years and life in prison on the drug conspiracy charge and a fine of up to $10,000.
On the charge of using or maintaining a drug-involved place, they face up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $500,000.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel Casey, who prosecuted the case, said after the verdict that his office was pleased with the outcome.
“The jury obviously listened carefully to all the evidence and returned a just verdict,” he said. “The success of this case was due, in large part, to the agents who worked on it for so long.”
The defense attorneys, Jon Haddow of Bangor and Stephen Smith of Augusta, said the jury’s decision will be appealed to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.
“The government’s case was built on the testimony of informants,” said Smith, who represented Mujo. “Everyone had every incentive to implicate my client.”
Haddow, Belanger’s attorney, said his client is concerned about the impact a long sentence would have on his health.
“He believes he won’t live to get out of jail,” Haddow said outside the courtroom.
In his closing statement to the jury Friday morning, Casey described the drug distribution operation as “a family business, an illegal family business.”
He added, “It operated for a dozen years because they were careful. They trusted their intuition. They relied upon their understanding about how to go about breaking the law. And they used their residences to operate the family business.”
In his closing argument, Smith called the government’s case “garbage on stilts” and criticized the prosecution for not introducing into evidence any drugs seized from either Belanger or Mujo.
“Where are the drugs?” he asked. “Not one gram of cocaine, not one pill, nothing has been introduced as evidence. A dozen cooperating witnesses, three police officers, hundreds of man hours of investigation, but where are the drugs?”
The prosecution had called a dozen cooperating witnesses, some of whom testified that Belanger and Mujo first obtained cocaine and, later, oxycodone from a source in Rhode Island, Casey told the jury. All testified they had purchased cocaine and/or oxycodone pills from Belanger or Mujo or both between 2002 and 2014.
The prosecutor also said the evidence that the amount of cocaine sold over those 12 years was in excess of 5 kilograms “was overwhelming.”
Casey said to prove the “family business” smuggled that amount, the government only had to prove the conspiracy smuggled 1.2 ounces of cocaine per month into the Dexter area over the course of the alleged conspiracy.
Smith said the “stilts” in the case are the cooperating witnesses who took the stand. “All those people, there’s your stilts,” he told jurors. “The government is convinced they’ve got the right people, but when you consider the stilts that the government is resting its case on, you must acquit.”
Belanger and Mujo were indicted in April 2015 along with eight people who have since pleaded guilty. Six of them testified.