Holden man sentenced for pot-growing scheme

BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - A Holden man accused of marijuana conspiracy and trying to hide cash proceeds from bank regulators was sentenced in federal court Tuesday.

49-year-old Christopher Ruhlin, who formerly owned Herbal Tea & Tobacco and the attached Owl's Club, will spend 20 months in prison.

Ruhlin could have faced four to five years in prison according to his attorney.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel Casey said to the judge quote, "I'm not going to stand up here and say he is some sort of monster that needs to go away for life, but that does not excuse his behavior."

Casey said that in 2010, Ruhlin's application to open a Medical Marijuana Dispensary was denied, yet for six years, he ran an operation anyway...illegally.

The state says while they understand Ruhlin's reasoning was to help people Casey said quote, "There are a lot of other ways you can help people without breaking the law."

Defense Attorney Jeff Sliverstein said his client admits he was over-eager to fulfill a need for people who were hurting.

At least 12 people showed up in support of Ruhlin and even provided statements to the judge commenting on his kindness and compassion.

Silverstein says, "We are very pleased with the support that Chris received from those in the community. The judge expressed that that was one of the substantial reasons supporting his sentence reduction."

The judge ultimately sentenced Ruhlin to 20 months in prison but made clear to Ruhlin that the quote, "unregulated sale of marijuana is dangerous and there are real public safety issues with this type of conduct."

He was also ordered to forfeit $115,000 to the government.

Sliverstein says, "The way our society is coming to terms with marijuana both recreational and medicinal is very confusing and not consistent, and there is a lot of mixed messaging going on. The judge wanted to take this case away from those issues and just kind of reiterate that it's a matter of regulation compliance."

Ruhlin will begin serving his sentence in March.

Silverstein says, "He's not happy about today, and he regrets the conduct he engaged in, but he's looking forward to getting it behind him."

Ruhlin's employee, Terrence Sawtelle, who pleaded guilty to manufacturing and distributing marijuana, was also sentenced Tuesday.

He will spend 12 months and one day in prison.