Court releases records in lobster co-op theft case
Rockland — Details on the suspect in a theft case involving his employer, a large fishermen's cooperative on Spruce Head Island, have been released through a motion to unseal impounded documents.
The allegations against Robert E. Thompson of St. George into the alleged theft of more than $10,000 from the Spruce Head Fishermen’s Cooperative were made public Jan. 4 when impounded police reports were made public.
Thompson, 51, had been arrested on Oct. 3, 2012 and charged with felony theft from the cooperative. When police raided Thompson’s home that day, they seized more than $20,000 in cash, computers and all his financial records, according to records filed in Knox County Superior Court.
Thompson was the wharf manager for the cooperative for approximately 20 years. He is free on $100,000 surety bail.
The newly released affidavit stated that members of the board of directors of the cooperative met on Jan. 20, 2012, with Knox County Chief Deputy Timothy Carroll and Lt. Detective Reginald Walker to voice their suspicions about Thompson. One board member said he had spoken to a lobsterman in Harpswell and that his son was a truck driver for a York County seafood dealer. The lobsterman said that his son said he dropped off large amounts of cash to the Spruce Head cooperative’s manager, according to the affidavit.
Thompson’s job included managing the buying and selling of lobsters. The York County seafood dealer was one of the companies that bought lobsters from the cooperative. The Spruce Head cooperative ships between 2 and 3 million pounds of lobsters each year and the York County 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.
Three board members also told the sheriff’s office that Thompson had been living beyond his means.
The board members said they suspected Thompson had been stealing from the co-op for several years because they could see the amount of money he spent and the expenditures outweighed his income from the co-op, according to the affidavit.
They said Thompson was being paid $60,000 a year, according to the affidavit.
On Feb. 3, 2012, Walker met with an informant who is not named in the affidavit, but who provided first-hand knowledge of the alleged illegal activity by Thompson, the affidavit stated.
The informant said he had known the Thompson family for a decade but had stopped having daily contact with them in 2009. The informant has no criminal record or pending charges but had been addicted to opiates at the time of knowing the Thompsons, according to the affidavit. The informant also had been involved in litigation against the Thompson family, said the affidavit.
The informant had witnessed envelopes of cash being dropped off to Thompson by truck drivers from the York County dealer, according to the affidavit. The report stated that the informant reported that there was at least $5,000 in the envelopes. The informant did not say how he knew the contents of the envelopes.
The informant also reported seeing several yellow manila envelopes of cash in a safe at Thompson’s home that looked like the ones turned over to Thompson by the drivers from the York County dealer.
While Thompson was on vacation, the cooperative board members hired a company to install surveillance and recording equipment at the Spruce Head Island Co-op.
A review of the surveillance videos showed that 17 crates of lobsters had been shipped to the York County dealer that were not recorded by Thompson during a four-month period. The minimum value of these lobsters was estimated at $13,660.
A review of business records also found that Thompson was collecting no receipts when the York County dealer’s trucks picked up, although receipts were being collected from other buyers.
The board members told the sheriff's office that they believed Thompson was creating extra crates of lobsters by manipulating the scales that weigh incoming lobsters.
As an example of a lobster crate being skimmed, a lobster boat would bring in 947 pounds of lobsters. These lobsters are split into 90 pounds and placed in crates for shipping. This makes 10 crates of lobsters with 47 pounds left over in a partial crate, said the affidavit.
Thompson could weigh the crate at 40 pounds and keep seven pounds for himself, without anyone else knowing, said the affidavit. In another instance, a 60-pound partial crate can be reported as 50 pounds so that Thompson could keep 10 pounds for himself.
Later surveillance in September showed no discrepancy but board members said Thompson acted as if he knew he was under suspicion.
The board members recounted examples of expenses incurred by Thompson for his home and a residence in Rockwood that made them suspicious that he was living beyond his means. The board members said that renovations to the Rockwood residence exceeded $100,000, and that he made additions to his home in St. George, including a new garage. The board members did not say how they came by this information.
An informant also reported that Thompson had put nearly $100,000 into restoration of a 1968 Chevrolet Camaro and that he had purchased seven snowmobiles for various family members.
Police executed four search warrants during the first week of October, one at Thompson’s home in St. George, one at his residence in Rockwood, one for Thompson’s safety deposit box at the Key Bank in Rockland, and one at the York County dealer.
The National Marine Fisheries Service, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Maine Marine Patrol also have assisted in the investigation, according to the sheriff’s office.
Thompson’s attorney, Walter McKee of Augusta, said Jan. 14 that he had just received a copy of the affidavit but had not read it. He said he was bothered that authorities could search people's homes and bank accounts so easily.
He said he was glad the files had been unsealed, and had filed a motion last month to have them unsealed. During an impoundment, a suspect's accounts and assets are frozen, he said.
Courier Publications reporter George Chappell can be reached at 207-594-4401, ext. 117, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.