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At 79, drug trafficker may still be in business

Convicted in 1980s, ‘everyday guy’ is now accused of running lucrative ring

He limped into the courtroom one day this week, his legs weighed down by shackles, and he squinted through his glasses at the strangers in the gallery. He once told police he lived on a $690 monthly Social Security check, and, even in his tan prison garb, the 79-year-old looked like a retiree.

But Marshall Dion’s criminal exploits read like a Hollywood script, a story of an intrepid drug trafficker who crashed a plane in Wisconsin three decades ago and crawled away from the scene, later denying the thousands of dollars that had floated through the air were his.

More recently, he was caught racing through Kansas with nearly $1 million stashed inside a beat-up pickup truck, a discovery that would lead authorities to find another $14 million in drug profits and 400 pounds of marijuana. As a result of that episode, Dion is facing federal charges in Boston, where he appeared in court this week as his lawyer tried to have the evidence against him thrown out.

Few, including the police officer who stopped him in Kansas last year, could predict that Dion would be accused of running such a sophisticated — and lucrative — drug trafficking ring.


Marshall Dion faces federal drug charges.Junction City Police Department/AP

“He was an ordinary, everyday guy; he didn’t look like he had any money at all,” said Boston attorney Conrad J. Bletzer Jr., who represented Dion in a drug case in Massachusetts in the late 1980s.

Bletzer called him “a very nice guy” and recalls Dion clearly, but he didn’t expect that he would be arrested decades later in control of $15 million.

“I was shocked,” Bletzer said.

John F. Coffey, a former assistant district attorney who once prosecuted Dion in that case, said the then-50-something didn’t look like a typical drug defendant.

“You could have mistaken him for a businessman or a lawyer,” Coffey said, recalling Dion as the bow-tie-wearing type.


“If you walked into a courtroom, you wouldn’t call him a drug dealer.”

Dion, who has family in Massachusetts and homes here and in at least two other states, faces a lengthy prison term for drug distribution, and court records recently submitted in a motion to suppress evidence from the Kansas traffic stop describe a man apparently well-versed in the drug trade, but who lived in shadows.

His lawyer, Hank Brennan, would not comment on the case and would only say, “I find him to be extraordinarily charismatic and intelligent as I’ve gotten to know him over the year or more.”

Little is known about Dion’s family or personal life, though a brother-in-law runs a $1.9 million trust account in his name.

He is also no stranger to the legal system.

The plane crash occurred in 1985 in Wisconsin. Dion was found crawling through a muddy field, denying that the $112,000 in cash found inside the plane and floating through the air was his, according to the Associated Press, which first reported on his case.

The government confiscated the money, after a judge found it was probably drug proceeds, though Dion was not charged.

Dion was then convicted in Massachusetts in the late 1980s of drug trafficking after authorities in Boston found more than 180 pounds of marijuana in his 1986 white Chrysler sedan. Police later found another 101 pounds of marijuana stashed in a commercial storage building in Lynnfield, and a Boston police spokesman told the Globe at the time that, “apparently he has houses all over New England. He’s a major operator, there’s no question.”


But even after serving a short prison sentence, Dion secretly went back to the drug trade, federal authorities said.

His current case in Boston began last year when a Junction City, Kan., police officer stopped Dion’s rundown 2002 GMC Sierra on Interstate 70, for going 80 in a 75-mile-per-hour zone. He was arrested on charges of trafficking drug proceeds, after a drug-sniffing dog led authorities to $828,220 in cash stashed in four different boxes in the truck. Authorities then searched Dion’s GPS device, which led to addresses in Massachusetts that Dion had visited weeks earlier, including a storage facility in North Reading.

An investigation by DEA and FBI agents ultimately led to the discovery of $15 million, 400 pounds of marijuana, and ledgers indicating that Dion had been back in the drug trade since the early 1990s. Two other people were also charged with participating in the drug conspiracy.

Before his arrest, Dion sought to portray himself as the unsuspecting traveler who thought he was flowing with traffic and could not understand why he was stopped. He told the officer he had homes in Colorado, Massachusetts, and Arizona, and was returning to Arizona after visiting his accountant in Pennsylvania.

Dion told the Kansas police officer, Nicholas Blake, that he had been arrested for possessing marijuana before but that he was “out of the business.” He invited Blake to search his truck but then seemed concerned when Blake wanted to use his drug-sniffing dog, Figo, according to a video of the encounter played in court Wednesday.


Brennan, Dion’s lawyer, asked US District Judge Denise J. Casper to find Blake unlawfully searched Dion’s truck without cause after what should have been a routine traffic stop. Such a finding could effectively eliminate all the evidence investigators have gathered. After hearing lengthy arguments, Casper said Friday she would consider the request.

Blake had told Casper he was suspicious of Dion’s nervousness at the onset of the traffic stop.

“He had a drug trafficking history he had obviously lied about,” the officer said.

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Milton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia
. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.