Man found guilty in theft of pellet stove payments

Posted Aug. 28, 2009, at 10:48 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A Glenburn man accused of illegally selling pellet stoves while he was manager for a local retailer was found guilty of felony theft Friday in Penobscot County Superior Court.

According the terms of his plea agreement, Benjamin Tibbetts III, 34, was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay $5,000 in restitution to his former employer Shirley Bartlett, owner of the now-closed Sunrise Home & Hearth. He pleaded no contest to the theft charge.

His prison sentence will run concurrently with the three-year sentence he received on Wednesday for a probation violation, according to Tibbetts’ attorney, Jeffrey Silverstein.

On Wednesday, Justice Michaela Murphy said enough evidence existed to conclude that Tibbetts had violated probation by committing a series of thefts in 2008 that totaled more than $10,000.

Tibbetts has been in and out of court for nearly a year related to a series of incidents last year involving his employment at Sunrise Home & Hearth.

According to published reports, Tibbetts began his employment at Sunrise Home & Hearth in January 2008 with hopes of one day taking over ownership from Bartlett. Tibbetts ran the Bangor store with little supervision, but when he took time off for his wedding and honeymoon in July 2008, Bartlett noticed discrepancies in the store’s transaction logs.

Bartlett, who also managed a store in Falmouth, hired two “secret shoppers” to set up potential sales from Tibbetts. In both cases, the Glenburn man sold stoves for cash and reportedly kept the cash for himself.

In addition to those two cases, Murphy concluded that the state had proved at least six other thefts of cash or product totaling more than $10,000.

At the time of the thefts, Tibbetts was on probation for prior burglary and theft convictions.

In March 2004, he was convicted of writing a series of bad checks. A month later, he was convicted of burglary and served six months of a 30-month sentence. Tibbetts first violated probation in 2005 when he illegally sold fuel from an oil company he worked for and then pocketed the money. He served nine months in jail on those charges but avoided additional time by enrolling in the Penobscot County Drug Court program. He graduated in July 2007 free of drug addiction and with hopes of rebuilding his life.

Referring to the Sunrise Home & Hearth case, Penobscot County Deputy District Attorney Michael Roberts said he took the most recent thefts as a sign that Tibbetts is “a thief first and a drug addict second.”

Tibbetts remained at Penobscot County Jail on Friday night, a jail official confirmed.

Several of Tibbetts’ victims already have initiated small-claims lawsuits against the store owner in the hope of recouping the money they paid for pellet stoves they never received. The number of claims was not immediately available Friday night.

Bangor Daily News writer Judy Harrison contributed to this report.

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