Judge orders state to turn over evidence in alleged theft from South Thomaston lobster cooperative

Posted April 24, 2013, at 2:27 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — The district attorney’s office must turn over evidence it has in its case against the former manager of the Spruce Head Fishermen’s Cooperative or drop the charge, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Justice Jeffrey Hjelm directed the district attorney’s office to provide the evidence to the defense by May 8 or he will not agree to extend the time the prosecution has to present its case against 51-year-old Robert E. Thompson to a grand jury.

Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Baroody said the district attorney’s office has not provided the evidence because it has been cooperating with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is conducting its own ongoing investigation into the alleged theft of money from the cooperative.

The federal government has much of the evidence seized as part of a series of searches done last September at Thompson’s home in St. George, at a second home he and his wife own in Rockwood, and at a seafood dealership in southern Maine, Baroody said. He said the district attorney’s office does hold some evidence.

Thompson’s attorney Walter McKee argued Wednesday in Knox County Superior Court in opposition to the state’s request to extend the time to present the case to a grand jury. The next grand jury in Knox County is scheduled to meet in July, a few weeks beyond the regular deadline.

McKee said the defense had to fight just to get the affidavit used by the police to obtain the search warrants last fall. He said it was unfair for his client to not be given the evidence so it can prepare a defense.

“It’s time for the state to fish or cut bait,” McKee said.

Thompson was arrested on Oct. 3 and charged with felony theft from the cooperative on Spruce Head Island in South Thomaston. While felony theft in Maine is defined as anything greater than $10,000, a civil lawsuit later filed by the cooperative claims that the former manager may have stolen as much as $180,000 from the lobstermen.

Baroody argued Wednesday that the extension was only a few weeks.

McKee countered that he is familiar with how the federal prosecutors work and he would find it amazing if the U.S. Attorney’s Office would file charges by July or even this year in a complicated tax case.

Hjelm ruled that if the state turns over the evidence it has to the defense, the district attorney’s office can have the extension to present the case to the grand jury.

Thompson appeared at the Wednesday morning hearing with McKee but did not speak.

The allegations contained in court records in the Thompson case claim that truck drivers from the southern Maine seafood dealer would turn over envelopes filled with cash to Thompson for lobsters skimmed from the cooperative.

Thompson’s job included managing the buying and selling of lobsters. The southern Maine seafood dealer, which the Bangor Daily News is not naming because it has not been charged with a crime in connection with the case, was one of the companies that bought lobsters from the cooperative. The cooperative ships 2 million to 3 million pounds of lobsters each year and the southern Maine dealer buys about two-thirds of those, according to the affidavit.

There are 56 lobstermen who sell to the Spruce Head cooperative and are part owners of the cooperative.

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