FARMINGTON — An Avon man arrested in what law enforcement officials called one of Franklin County’s largest drug selling operations was also known around town for lending people a hand.

And that reputation helped in the end. Daryl “Poochie” Searles was ordered Friday to serve three years in prison by a judge who said that he took advantage of drug addicts in the small community. But Justice Robert Clifford also said he didn’t think there was much chance the admitted drug dealer would commit the same crimes again.

Searles, 58, pleaded guilty to class A, class B and class C drug trafficking in December as part of a plea deal and was sentenced in Franklin County court Friday to a 10-year prison sentence, with all but three years suspended. He will also serve three years of probation.

Assistant District Attorney Josh Robbins argued for a longer prison term, including four years in prison, but Clifford said he took into consideration both the seriousness of high volume drug sales and Searles’ reputation as someone who would help someone who needed it.

Phillips and Avon area residents submitted letters to the court recounting times when Searles had helped them. One of the residents, Yvonne Rowe, testified in court that Searles was known for helping out around town ever since he was 12 or 13 years old.

She said that doesn’t excuse the drug selling, but said the court should also weigh his good work.

“He’s been a good citizen except for this,” she said. “He would do anything for anyone anytime.”

His attorney, Walter Hanstein, noted that Searles was not living in luxury with the drug money, but was living in a storage container on his land with no plumbing and no electricity.

In his cross examination of Detective Stephen Charles at the hearing, Hanstein asked Charles if he could confirm whether Searles was actually living in such poor conditions.

“With a brand new truck, yes,” answered Charles.

Charles, who lives in Phillips, which neighbors Avon, said he has been familiar with Searles since he joined the department — both from seeing Searles around town and from recurring suspicion that he was involved in drug sales.

He said he first got anonymous information about Searles’ possible drug sales in 2002 and continued to hear more throughout his career.

Kory Roderick, a neighbor of Searles, attributed traffic increases on their road to drug users visiting Searles’ home.

Roderick said the traffic on their dead end street made her concerned about the safety of her children and said she stopped letting them ride their bikes outside without her.

In pronouncing sentence, Clifford there is no evidence that Searles used the drugs or was selling drugs to support his own addiction, but said he was running a business that profited from selling to addicted residents of the rural community.

“They are being taken advantage of for their addiction,” he said.

Robbins said Searles had a “somewhat split reputation” — he was well known both for helping out people in need and selling drugs on a large scale.

“He’s done it at a level that has not been seen in the county before,” said Robbins.

Searles, who had been out on bail pending sentencing, stood before the judge during the hearing and said selling the drugs was a mistake.

“But this is a pretty serious mistake,” said Clifford. “You’re dealing in drugs.”

“I know,” said Searles, nodding.

Clifford said after sentencing that there was a minimal chance of Searles re-offending.

Searles was arrested at his home in April by Franklin County Sheriff’s Department detectives as part of a joint investigation with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency and Maine State Police.

After months of investigation prompted by a tip, law enforcement officers seized 442 pills containing 9,277 milligrams of narcotics, marijuana, seven firearms and $144,008.

Police conducted a controlled buy of oxycodone from Searles. He was arrested at his home by Charles on a warrant.

Under Maine law, aggravated trafficking in the drugs with the firearms present carries a mandatory minimum sentence of four years in prison. However, under the deal negotiated between the two parties, Searles was sentenced only on the drug trafficking charges.

While testifying Friday, Charles started to answer a question from Robbins about why he thought Searles had the guns, but was cut short by an objection from Hanstein about speculating on conduct beyond the specific charges on which Searles was being sentenced .

Hanstein said that when Searles agreed to forfeit the $144,008 to the police, it meant he would lose money he legitimately earned from doing odd jobs such as shoveling snow and raking that was commingled with his drug profits.

“He’s lost his life savings,” said Hanstein.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

[email protected]

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