Lucas Sirois exits the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building in Bangor after his first court appearance on charges related to an alleged conspiracy to use medical marijuana grow houses in western Maine to illegally sell $13 million of the drug in and out of Maine. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / AP

The alleged ringleader of an illegal marijuana operation based in Farmington pleaded not guilty to eight charges against him in federal court on Thursday.

Lucas Sirois, 41, of Farmington, is accused of operating an illegal marijuana operation that sold $13 million in cannabis grown in western Maine ostensibly under the state’s medical marijuana program to non-medical patients across state lines as well as in Maine. Prosecutors said he structured his operation to make it appear as if it was in compliance with his state-issued license as a medical marijuana caregiver.

He is also accused of using current and former police officers, including deputies with the Oxford and Franklin county sheriffs’ offices, to obtain confidential law enforcement information. Thirteen people have been charged in connection with the marijuana operation. ‘

Besides Sirois, 10 other people accused of involvement in the operation were arraigned on Thursday. All joined Sirois in pleading not guilty.

The pleas came as the operation continues to ignite debate about the level of regulation of Maine’s medical marijuana industry. Maine’s top cannabis official said last week that he believes there is more illegal activity within the industry and that the Office of Marijuana Policy has few tools to prevent marijuana from finding its way to the black market.

At the center of that has been the lack of a seed-to-sale tracking mechanism in Maine’s medical marijuana industry like one that is present in the recreational weed industry.

Supporters of such a system say its implementation could stop what occurred in the Farmington area. Yet those in the industry and other advocates say that the seed-to-sale tracking system would put too much of a burden on caregivers, and they dispute the idea that it would prevent black market transactions.

Alysia Melnick, a leader in the effort to legalize recreational marijuana in Maine in 2016 and a member of the Maine Legislature’s Marijuana Advisory Commission, disputed the idea that medical marijuana is under regulated during a meeting last week, or that the Farmington case signified a systemic problem in the industry.

“I don’t think this should be used to describe representative behavior of the 3000-plus caregivers around the state,” Melnick said.

Sirois pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, conspiracy to commit money laundering, two counts of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, two counts of bank fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States and impede and impair the Internal Revenue Service and tax evasion.

David Burgess, 53, a former Rangeley selectman who is accused of accepting tens of thousands of dollars from Sirois in exchange for pushing his agenda, pleaded not guilty to five charges against him shortly after Sirois appeared.

Former Franklin County sheriff’s deputies Derrick Doucette, 29, of Jay, and Bradley Scovil, 33, of Rangeley, who are accused of using law enforcement connections to help Sirois find out he was under investigation, both pleaded not guilty to three counts on Thursday.

James McLamb, 29, of Auburn, accused of using a law enforcement database he had access to as an Oxford County sheriff’s deputy to show Doucette and Scovil that they were under investigation, and then destroying evidence of the interactions, pleaded not guilty to one count of tampering with documents. McLamb was town manager of the Western Maine town of Dixfield before he was fired earlier this month after being charged in the case.

Wilton police Officer Kevin Lemay, 33, of Farmington, who was put on administrative leave after being charged in the case, pleaded not guilty to tampering with documents. He is accused of using databases to check to see if cars following Doucette and Scovil were law enforcement and then destroying the evidence afterward.

Ryan Nezol, 38, of Farmington, who prosecutors said helped launder Sirois launder illicit marijuana profits through a complex corporate structure, pleaded not guilty to one charge of possession with the intent to distribute controlled substances.

Brandon Dagnese, 27, of Scarborough, who is accused of helping Sirois sell marijuana in bulk to buyers out of state, pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances.

Kenneth Allen, 48, of Farmington, a tax preparer who is charged with hiding hundreds of thousands of dollars of Sirois’ income that resulted in a tax loss of more than $400,000, pleaded not guilty to two counts.

Sirois is also accused of using his family and friends to obscure his illegal activities and maximize his profits.

Sirois’ estranged wife, Alisa Sirois, 43, of Kingfield; his father, Robert Sirois, 68, of Farmington; Nezol; and others allegedly laundered drug proceeds through a complex corporate structure. Alisa Sirois pleaded not guilty to three counts while Robert Sirois pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances.

The judge set a Dec. 2 deadline for additional motions in the case and set jury selection for a trial for Jan. 4.