Fraud trial delayed for Vt man found responsible for deaths in gunpowder plant explosion

Posted Jan. 05, 2014, at 8:58 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The trial of a Vermont man serving a sentence in New Hampshire for manslaughter has been set for next month in federal court while his attorneys attempt to reach a settlement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Craig Sanborn, 64, of Maidstone, Vt., pleaded not guilty in February to one count of wire fraud charge in connection with a scam that allegedly bilked a Piscataquis County town out of $300,000 in federal funds between Nov. 1, 2005 and Jan. 8, 2008.

Sanborn allegedly misused funds paid to him by the town of Brownville for services and materials that were never purchased by him, according to court documents. The indictment charges that he faked invoices for those services and materials and faxed them to the town office, thereby constituting wire fraud.

His federal trial in Bangor, set to begin Wednesday, was rescheduled for Feb. 2. In granting the motion to continue the trial, U.S. District Judge John Woodcock said Sanborn’s attorneys and federal prosecutor Gail Malone were discussing a settlement.

Sanborn was sentenced Nov. 27 in Coos County Superior Court in New Hampshire to 10-20 years in prison in connection with a 2010 explosion in Colebrook, N.H., that killed two men and injured a third, according to New Hampshire Public Radio.

In October, a jury found Sanborn guilty of not providing proper safeguards at the factory in Colebrook that made a gunpowder substitute. An explosion at the plant on May 14, 2010, killed Jesse Kennett, 49, and Donald Kendall, 56, according to information provided by the Berlin Daily Sun of New Hampshire.

Sanborn denied responsibility for the explosion, according to WMUR, a New Hampshire television station. Mark Sisti, the Chichester, N.H., attorney who represented Sanborn at the trial, told jurors that his client was out of town when the explosion happened. The defense attorney also said the explosion could have been caused by various scenarios, including employee error or a stray piece of metal creating friction inside a machine.

Officials from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration investigated the explosion and concluded there were so many serious, willful safety violations at the plant, it fined Sanborn $1.2 million, according to NHPR. That fine was rescinded when OSHA determined Sanborn could not pay it. Instead, Sanborn promised never to be involved in the manufacture of gunpowder again.

Five years before the explosion, Sanborn approached the town of Brownville, which had received $301,500 in federal Community Development Block Grant funding from the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, about expanding his operation.

The grant was awarded to help the defendant and X-Ring Industries of Maine renovate Brownville’s rail terminal and establish an ammunition facility there. The prosecution’s case synopsis alleges that Sanborn created and faxed four “false and fraudulent” invoices totaling $257,210 to the Brownville town office in 2007, which did not come from the companies that allegedly billed Sanborn and were never actually paid by him.

Brownville disbursed additional Community Development Block Grant funds — $73,314 — to Sanborn, the synopsis reads, in January 2008.

He allegedly endorsed the check made payable to X-Ring Industries of Maine and deposited it into his bank account.

Sanborn is appealing his New Hampshire conviction. If convicted of wire fraud in federal court in Maine, Sanborn faces up to 20 years in prison along with a fine as high as $250,000, and he could be ordered to pay restitution.

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