Spruce Head lobster cooperative asks feds for $70,000

Former employee stole more than $1 million
By Juliette Laaka | Jul 09, 2014

Portland — The Spruce Head Fisherman's Co-op is seeking the release of $70,000 in funds seized  two years ago during a search warrant as part of a criminal investigation of a former manager that worked for the co-op for 20 years and is accused of stealing more than $1 million from the business.

The co-op is not and has not been a target of the investigation, said the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Portland. The money the plaintiff is seeking was confiscated during a search of Robert Thompson 's home in St. George, and safety deposit boxes.

Thompson stole more than $1 million from the cooperative, said the complaint.

Thompson, 53, was charged in 2012 for felony theft for receiving cash from a wholesaler for crates of lobster and not recording the transactions. Due to the district attorney's refusal to provide pre-indictment discovery materials, the case was dismissed. The district attorney said providing the material could jeopardize a federal investigation.

Thompson weighed crabs and lobsters that members brought to the business, and also negotiated the sale of lobsters to wholesalers, including JP's Shellfish, Inc., of York County. The owner of JP's, John Price, pleaded guilty in January to 12 counts of restructuring currency transactions, from his cash payments to Thompson in return for lobsters. Price also pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act, for his purchase of lobsters as part of side-sales with co-op members.

According to the complaint filed July 8, Thompson is now the target of an ongoing federal investigation by the Internal Revenue Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration arising from his conduct at the co-op.

An informal investigation by the co-op's board of directors began in 2011 after it was noticed Thompson was spending more than his salary would accommodate. The investigation revealed Thompson placed crates of lobsters on JP's Shellfish trucks, but did not record it in records, resulting in JP's receiving lobsters and not paying the co-op.

An informant told investigators JP's Shellfish would deliver envelopes of cash to Thompson, said the complaint.

The co-op filed a civil complaint against Thompson, John Price and Price's business, and in January 2013, an attachment was granted on the defendants' property in the amount of $10,377, which was concluded to be the minimum value of the lobster stolen.

Payments from JP's Shellfish to Thompson totals $1,010,965, and in August 2013, an additional attachment was granted in that amount.

The suit states the civil case was settled,  but the co-op did not receive all the money that was taken. The co-op is not requesting the court direct the government to release the money back to the co-op.

The co-op is represented by George D. Dilworth of Portland.

Courier Publications' reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at jlaaka@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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