He owned houses in Massachusetts, Colorado, and Arizona, had $11 million stashed in a North Reading storage facility, and once crawled away from a plane crash in Wisconsin as thousands of dollars in cash (suspected drug profits) floated through the air around him.
But his dramatic exploits came to an end Thursday, when 80-year-old Marshall Herbert Dion, wearing tan prison clothing, shuffled to the witness stand to plead guilty to running a massive marijuana-dealing and money-laundering operation.
Under a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, Dion could serve 5 to 7 years in federal prison, ending a lucrative criminal career that spanned decades until a chance traffic stop in Kansas.
“Over the course of the conspiracy . . . he had sold approximately 3,000 to 10,000 kilograms of marijuana,” Assistant US Attorney Leah Foley said during a brief court hearing.
Dion’s lawyer, Hank Brennan, said later that “Mr. Dion has embraced his responsibility and is looking forward to the next chapter in his life.”
Dion’s unraveling began during a traffic stop in Junction City, Kan., in June 2013, when a police officer pulled him over for driving 80 in a 75 m.p.h. zone. During the stop, the officer searched Dion’s beat-up pickup truck and found nearly $850,000 in cash.
The discovery sparked a federal investigation that ultimately led to the discovery of $2 million in a bank account, another $880,000 in an Arizona building, and the storage facility in North Reading, where authorities found 395 pounds of marijuana and $11 million in cash.
Foley told US District Judge Denise Casper that authorities found travel logs that indicate Dion had sold more than 3,000 kilograms of marijuana — and possibly as many as 10,000 kilograms — dating back to 1992.
Dion’s decision to plead guilty Thursday caps a lengthy criminal career. He was convicted in Massachusetts in the late 1980s of drug trafficking after authorities in Boston found about 180 pounds of marijuana in a 1986 Chrysler sedan. Police later found 101 pounds of marijuana stashed in a commercial storage building in Lynnfield.
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.”
After the plane crash in Wisconsin in 1985, Dion was found crawling through a muddy field, though he denied that the $112,000 in cash found inside the plane and floating through the air was his.
For Dion’s latest exploits, Casper could sentence him to prison for a term ranging from 60 to 87 months for conspiracy to deal marijuana, possession with intent to deal marijuana, and money laundering, under the deal he reached with prosecutors. He had faced a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years in prison if he had been convicted in a trial. He is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 11.
Under the plea agreement, however, Dion’s conviction and guilty plea would be vacated if he is successful in an appeal he is pursuing before a higher court. That appeal is based on what he calls an unconstitutional search of his truck after the traffic stop in Kansas.
Dion told Casper that he agreed with everything Foley said about him in court Thursday excepttwo things: That the Kansas officer had a reason to stop him for speeding, and that he consented to the search of the truck.
“There’s no way the officer could have known if I was speeding, even if I was, which I wasn’t,” Dion said.
Then he added, “There’s no way I would have agreed to a search of my property.”Milton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.
com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.