PORTLAND, Maine — U.S. Marshal Noel March on Thursday afternoon swore in 18 Maine law enforcement officers as deputy federal agents to assist in the investigation of pharmacy robberies and prescription drug abuse.
The additional investigators are part of an effort to deal with increased pharmacy crimes and prescription abuse in Maine, U.S. Attorney Thomas E. Delahanty II said in a news release.
In 2009, there were eight pharmacy robberies and burglaries in Maine, Delahanty said. In 2010, the total jumped to 21.
As a result of the increase, federal authorities were asked to help curb the problem. After a strategy was developed, pharmacy crimes appeared to have leveled off at 24 in 2011, Delahanty said.
The next year, however, the number of pharmacy crimes more than doubled to 58, Delahanty said.
“We are very fortunate that there have been no serious injuries reported in any of the cases even though there have been multiple incidents where guns and dangerous weapons have been used or displayed,” he said.
In late 2012, the U.S. attorney requested federal assistance from the FBI because of the similarity to bank robberies and because they are violent crimes under the federal Hobbs Act. The Hobbs Act prohibits actual or attempted robbery or extortion affecting interstate or foreign commerce.
So far this year, there have been six pharmacy robberies, Delahanty said.
“This is a drastic reduction from 24 at this time last year but with a substantial risk of injury, it is still too many,” Delahanty said. “We cannot provide an authenticated reason for this decline but it is encouraging, except for the fact that it may be due to an increased supply and the greater availability of heroin and prescription drugs on the street.”
With the cooperation of state, county and local law enforcement, the U.S. attorney is making stickers and signs available to each pharmacy in the state to alert the public and would-be robbers and thieves that crimes committed on pharmacy property will be investigated and prosecuted by local, county and state law enforcement, along with federal law enforcement and the Department of Justice.
Arrests have been made in all six pharmacy robberies this year. Law enforcement at all levels have taken the investigations further by pursuing associates of the person who committed the robbery, including friends who help plan the venture, friends who scout out the store and those who drive getaway vehicles, Delahanty said.
Cooperation and partnerships among law enforcement agencies strengthen investigations, he said, citing three recent notable cases:
— In March, the Maine State Police helped the Yarmouth Police Department apprehend Dylan Libby of Bangor after he allegedly robbed the Yarmouth Rite Aid, rammed a police cruiser and then crashed his car on Interstate 295 after leading state troopers on a chase.
— In June, Nicholas Alexander and Devin Alexander of Dresden were charged by federal authorities after allegedly robbing Walgreens in Bath. They were caught the day after the robbery after an investigation by the Bath Police Department, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, Maine Drug Enforcement Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation.
— In August 2011, Nicholas Skobie of Rockport robbed the Rite Aid in Millinocket. He threatened the pharmacist with a firearm. When he got the pills and money he fled the pharmacy after being in there for less than four minutes, but was caught a half-hour later after the immediate response and cooperation of seven law enforcement agencies, including the Millinocket and East Millinocket police departments, Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office, Maine State Police, Maine Warden Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
FBI agents Todd DiFede and Tom MacDonald have been designated as points of contact in Maine. DiFede and MacDonald have recruited 18 officers from 13 state, county and municipal law enforcement agencies. The recruits all have undergone training and will be called upon as needed to assist throughout the state, Delahanty said.
Considering the geography of Maine and the scarce law enforcement resources, especially in rural areas, this will be of great assistance, he said.
Officers sworn in Thursday were: Lt. Chris Burbank, South Berwick Police Department; Detective Mark Clifford, York Police Department; Detectives Chad Allen and Sarah Roberts and Detective Sgt. Matt Jones, Sanford Police Department; Detective David Jamieson, Kennebunk Police Department; Trooper Jeremy Forbes, Maine State Police, Troop A; Detectives Lamar Quarles, Robert Perkins and Shawn Cloutier, Biddeford Police Department; Detective Corey Huntress, Saco Police Department; Detectives Jason Cote and Chris Blodgett, Augusta Police Department; Detective Frank Hatch, previously deputized due to military service, Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office; Detective Sgt. David Beauregard, Bath Police Department; Detective Sgt. Christopher Young, Rockland Police Department; Detective Robert McFetridge, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office; and Detective Kristin Calaman, Houlton Police Department.