State drops theft charge in Spruce Head lobster co-op case

By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff
Posted May 22, 2013, at 6:38 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — The district attorney’s office has dismissed a felony theft charge against the former manager of one of the state’s largest lobster cooperatives but the dismissal does not end the man’s legal problems.

The dismissal was filed May 6 in Knox County Superior Court, two weeks after Justice Jeffrey Hjelm ruled that the state must turn over the evidence it has gathered against 51-year-old Robert E. Thompson to his attorney.

Thompson was arrested on Oct. 3 and charged with felony theft from the Spruce Head Fishermen’s Cooperative on Spruce Head Island in South Thomaston.

Felony theft in Maine is defined as anything greater than $10,000, but a civil lawsuit later filed by the cooperative claims that the former manager may have stolen as much as $180,000 from the lobstermen.

District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau stated in the dismissal notice that the action does not preclude future charges.

State rules of evidence require that an indictment be issued within six months of a charge being filed unless a judge grants an extension. The state had sought an extension, citing the continuing investigation.

The prosecutor stated in his dismissal notice that providing the evidence to the defense could jeopardize the investigation and would not be appropriate at this time. Assistant District Attorney Jeff Baroody said at a court hearing last month that the U.S. Attorney’s Office is conducting its own investigation.

Messages left with Rushlau and Thompson’s attorney Walter McKee of Augusta were not returned Wednesday.

Last month, McKee said it was time for the state to “fish or cut bait” on the case.

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 told the court last month.

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, 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.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/05/22/news/midcoast/state-drops-theft-charge-in-spruce-head-lobster-co-op-case/ printed on November 28, 2014