February 18, 2019
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Lawyer requests former co-op manager serve 45 days for lobster scheme

SPRUCE HEAD, Maine — The attorney for the former manager of one of the state’s largest lobster cooperatives is asking the court to sentence his client to 45 days for illegally selling lobsters and failing to pay income taxes on those sales.

The recommendation for a sentence for 53-year-old Robert Thompson of St. George was filed Friday by attorney Walter McKee. The U.S. attorney’s office has until Tuesday to file its recommended sentence.

Federal sentencing guidelines call for a prison term of 41 to 51 months. Thompson could also be fined up to $250,000.

Thompson pleaded guilty in December in U.S. District Court in Portland to one count of tax evasion and one count of violation of the Lacey Act, which prohibits the illegal sale of lobsters.

Thompson’s attorney argued, however, that there are reasons why Thompson should be sentenced to far less than the guidelines. He argues in paperwork filed in federal court that the bulk of the $1.4 million Thompson received from the illegal sales of lobsters from 2004 through 2011 was paid to members of the cooperative. The federal government reported that Thompson earned $160,000 from these illegal sales from 2008 through 2011.

Thompson was originally charged in October 2012 for felony theft and the cooperative later filed a civil lawsuit against him for the alleged theft of $1.4 million in lobsters. But that state charge was dropped as the federal government undertook its investigation. The cooperative later dropped its lawsuit.

The U.S. attorney’s office later filed paperwork in court in the companion case of John Price of J.P. Seafood of Eliot that there was a clandestine arrangement with certain members of the cooperative to buy lobsters from them in cash and evade income taxes. Thompson was the middleman in the arrangement.

Price was sentenced in October to 45 days in jail and fined $100,000 for illegally structuring cash deposits linked to lobsters purchased from members of the Spruce Head Fishermen’s Cooperative. Price reported the income he made from the sales.

The U.S. attorney’s office has declined to comment on whether there is any investigation into tax evasion by lobstermen who made the side sales to Thompson rather than to the Spruce Head Fishermen’s Cooperative.

Under the cooperative system, lobstermen are required to sell all their lobsters to the organization. There are about 56 members of the cooperative.

McKee also argues to the court that his client will have paid off the income tax owed by the time of sentencing. In addition, he said there has already been consequences to Thompson, including losing the job he held for 26 years.

Thompson is now a maintenance worker earning $9.50 an hour and is the sole source of transportation for his wife.



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