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Lawyer says sign vandalism is "not the crime of the century"

By Stephen Betts | Feb 03, 2020
Photo by: Stephen Betts This sign erected outside a house on Holmes Street in Rockland is at the center of a criminal case in which four people have been charged.

Rockland — A local businessman is being held on a federal probation order after he was charged by Rockland police with his role in the vandalism of a sign that disparaged his company.

The lawyer for 31-year-old Joseph R. Dinapoli, of Cushing, suggested the law enforcement action was overkill.

"This is not the crime of the century. This is an old-fashioned Rockland, Knox County feud," defense attorney Michael Whipple, of Portland, said during a Friday, Jan. 31 hearing for Dinapoli in the Knox County court.

Dinapoli was arrested Thursday night, Jan. 30, by Rockland police on a warrant they had obtained from the court on charges of tampering with a witness, criminal mischief, and violating a condition of release.

Three of his workers had been charged the same week with involvement in the incident in which a sign -- that had been posted by a disgruntled customer -- had been vandalized and set on fire.

Garret Lundborg, 22, of Somerville, and Zachary Porter, 19, of Thomaston were charged with arson and criminal mischief for setting fire Nov. 12 to the same sign that had been vandalized three days earlier.

Melissa R. Stratton, 27, Rockland, was charged with criminal mischief of the sign Nov. 12 and operating after suspension. She is accused of driving a company vehicle to take the two men to the home where the sign is posted.

The sign was posted by Todd D. Mahar, 57, at his house on Holmes Street and disparaged Dinapoli's Far Meadow Construction business. According to the affidavit filed by Rockland police in the court, Dinapoli had sent a text to Porter Nov. 9 to "make it gone" in reference to the sign. Later that night, Porter and Lundborg damaged the sign by knocking it over, according to the affidavit.

The next day, Dinapoli offered $3,000 to Mahar asking him to take it down but the owner declined.

On the night of Nov. 12, according to police, Stratton drove Porter and Lundborg to the the sign and they attempted to knock it down, but it had been reinforced. They tried burning it but that did not work, so they went back to the company workshop on Wharf Street in Rockland and got gasoline. Porter and Lundborg returned to the residence and lit the sign on fire again, according to police.

The sign was not heavily damaged and remains up to this day.

Assistant District Attorney Lynn Madison requested $5,000 cash bail for Dinapoli at the suspect's Jan. 31 court hearing and that bail conditions include no contact with the owner of the sign nor with the three employees.

Whipple argued, however, that prohibiting Dinapoli from having contact with his three workers would mean he would have to terminate their employment.

Justice Daniel Billings agreed to set bail at $1,000 cash and limited the no-contact provision to only the owner of the sign.

Dinapoli did not enter a plea because the tampering charge is a felony level offense and the case has not gone before a grand jury.

Whipple also argued at the Jan. 31 hearing that the charge of tampering with a witness was a questionable claim. He said that all that is being alleged is that he advised Stratton to not talk to police until she contacted an attorney of her own.

"I'm not sure that is tampering," Whipple said.

Dinapoli was sentenced in December 2017 in the U.S. District Court to 30 days in jail and three years of supervised release for possession of a firearm by a person convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

A federal probation offered filed a motion in federal court for Dinpoli to be held even if he raised the bail on the state charges because of the new allegations.

Dinapoli has another pending case in the state court for terrorizing, disorderly conduct and domestic violence assault. The incidents are alleged to have occurred in November 2018 at Oceanside Middle School in Thomaston.

Police said he threatened to drive his truck through the entrance to the school when he was unable to pick up his child.

Mahar had been charged with violating a protective order not to have contact with Dinapoli or his employees. That charge was dismissed last week by the state. The district attorney's office cited insufficient evidence for dismissing the case.

Signs with political statements or which are not of a commercial nature do not require a permit from the city. Rockland Code Enforcement Officer Adam Ackor said Monday that this sign is a freedom of speech issue and the city does not require a permit.

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Comments (5)
Posted by: Kathryn Fogg | Feb 03, 2020 17:56

So is that a commercial sign turned into an opinion?


Posted by: Stephen Betts | Feb 03, 2020 17:13

Non-commercial signs such as political signs or ones expressing an opinion do not require city permits.

Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Feb 03, 2020 16:05

I don't remember anyone lighting a sign on fire or threatening to drive into a school building in Knox County, Maine, maybe Knox County,Tennessee. Seems there needs to be an adjustment of attitude here and it isn't on Holmes Street.

Posted by: Robert John Wadsworth | Feb 03, 2020 16:00

Hey Stephen Betts, is there a permit for this.  the sign has been there for a long time and what is the name of the home owner who put it there?    why don't you do your total job?

Posted by: Kathryn Fogg | Feb 03, 2020 14:53

Don't signs have to be approved by the Code Officer?


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