‘Cut-rate’ stove sales place Glenburn man on hot seat

Posted Oct. 06, 2008, at 9:34 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:18 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Police have charged a Glenburn man who they believe has been selling wood pellet stoves illegally from a Bangor retail store that he managed.

About three years ago, the same man, Benjamin Tibbetts III, 33, was caught peddling discounted fuel from a stolen oil truck.

Tibbetts was arrested in late September on a simple probation violation, according to Bangor police Detective Sgt. Paul Kenison. A further investigation, however, revealed that the man, a former manager at Sunrise Home & Hearth in Bangor, allegedly sold heavily discounted pellet stoves for cash and then pocketed the money.

An arrest affidavit filed in Penobscot County Superior Court claimed that Tibbetts stole between $25,000 and $100,000 from the Bangor retailer in less than a year. So far, he has been issued a summons only for Class C theft, but that charge could be upgraded by the district attorney’s office depending on the amount of money involved.

Tibbetts is scheduled to make his next court appearance on Nov. 7, although he is expected to be indicted by a grand jury prior to that, according to Deputy District Attorney Michael Roberts.

On the probation violation alone, Tibbetts could spend more than five years in prison based on a July 2006 conviction for burglary and theft. Tibbetts and another man were found guilty of stealing an oil truck from a Milford company in 2005 and then selling fuel to customers for as low as $1 a gallon.

He served nine months in jail on those charges and was ordered to pay back several thousand dollars in restitution. A bulk of his jail sentence was suspended, but if he’s found guilty of violating terms of his probation, he could have to serve the balance of the sentence or more than five years. The new Class C theft charge also carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

The following details were obtained from the court documents related to Tibbetts’ recent charge.

Shirley Bartlett, owner of Sunrise Home & Hearth on Stillwater Avenue, hired Tibbetts in January 2008 to manage the store. After several months, she began to become suspicious of his sales practices after receiving numerous complaints that he was taking money from customers and then not providing or installing any products.

After consulting with her attorney, Bartlett set up a sting operation in which she convinced “secret shoppers” to try to purchase stoves from Tibbetts. One customer was approached by Tibbetts and told he could get a better deal on a stove if he paid in cash. The man agreed and bought a Vermont Castings pellet stove that retailed at $2,500 for $1,800, police alleged. Tibbetts gave the man a handwritten receipt that did not match the standard Sunrise Home & Hearth receipts.

Bartlett then sent another “secret shopper” to the Bangor store. Tibbetts reportedly sold that customer a $2,400 stove for $900 in cash and, like before, he presented a handwritten receipt.

The storeowner also told police that she discovered a bank statement from Tibbetts indicating that between mid-June and mid-July, he deposited more than $10,000 into his account.

Police obtained a warrant to search Tibbetts’ home in Glenburn and found a stolen stove inside his basement. They also found alcohol at the residence, which was a violation of the man’s probation.

He was arrested on the probation violation and charged with Class C theft related to the one stove found at his residence. The case involving the theft of money from the store is still under review at the district attorney’s office, and it’s not clear how many stoves were sold illegally or how many customers were affected.

A Bangor resident e-mailed the Bangor Daily News recently indicating that he was a victim of Tibbetts’ alleged misconduct. He said he paid about $3,000 for the stove in the spring and was told it would be delivered in six weeks. The man said he heard last week that Tibbetts had been arrested and that he was under investigation for theft, but never heard from the store about the status of his stove.

Several attempts to reach Bartlett within the last week were unsuccessful.

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