June 24, 2018
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Judge agrees to $1 million lien against seafood dealer, co-op manager for alleged lobster theft

By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — A judge agreed last week to slap a lien for more than $1 million attachment on properties of a southern Maine seafood dealer as well as the former manager of the Spruce Head Fishermen’s Cooperative over allegations by the midcoast cooperative that those parties conspired to steal and sell huge quantities of lobster.

Justice Andrew Horton issued his order Aug. 20 in the Maine Business and Consumer Court, agreeing that it was more likely than not that the cooperative would recover civil lawsuit judgments of $1,010,965 against Eliot-based J.P. Shellfish Inc.; its longtime owner John Price; former cooperative manager Robert Thompson and his wife, Cindy Thompson.

Thompson was arrested last October and charged with felony theft. Police claimed he stole lobsters from the cooperative and sold them for cash to J.P. Shellfish. The charge was dismissed in May, however, when the Knox County district attorney’s office said it could not yet turn over evidence to the defense without jeopardizing the continuing investigation.

The prosecution had sought additional time — beyond the statutory six months after he was arrested — to indict Thompson, but Justice Jeffrey Hjelm denied that request.

District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau stated in the May dismissal notice that the action did not preclude future charges. Assistant District Attorney Jeff Baroody said at an April court hearing that the U.S. Attorney’s Office was conducting its own investigation. No additional criminal charges have been filed.

Thompson’s attorney, Walter McKee, said Wednesday that his client would definitely appeal the judge’s attachment order.

“The $1 million was gross speculation, to say the least,” McKee said,

A telephone message left Wednesday for Price at his seafood business was not immediately returned.

The cooperative filed a civil lawsuit against the parties earlier this year in the state’s business court. Horton said documents obtained from J.P. Shellfish indicate that Thompson was paid a total of more than $1 million in several hundred transactions that occurred from December 2006 through October 2012. Most of the sales were for lobsters but some involved crabs, according to the judge’s order.

The allegations contained in court records of Thompson’s dismissed criminal case were that truck drivers from J.P. Shellfish would give envelopes filled with cash to Thompson for lobsters skimmed from the cooperative.

Thompson’s job included managing the buying and selling of lobsters. J.P. Shellfish purchased two-thirds of the 2 million to 3 million pounds of lobsters sold each year by the cooperative, according to the police affidavit.

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

Horton’s order pointed out that Thompson was not a lobsterman but a full-time employee of the cooperative and had no legitimate basis to possess the large amounts of lobsters he was selling to J.P. Shellfish on his own.

The cooperative conducted video surveillance last year and in a short time allegedly determined that Thompson had stolen more than $10,000 worth of lobsters, the judge’s order stated.

Horton said in his ruling that while the showing of fraud and theft was stronger against Thompson, the actions of Price and his company during surveillance and at the time that search warrants were executed last year supported the cooperative’s claims that Price was a willing participant in Thompson’s scheme.

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