March 12, 2010

Former building manager charged with theft

TREVOR MAXWELL

— By

Staff Writer

The former manager of a Portland apartment building is scheduled to be arraigned next week on a charge of stealing at least $260,000 from the owner of the 30-unit high-rise.

Thomas Abbott, 56, had been the resident manager for more than a decade at the Northgate Apartments at 231 State St.

Police and the son of the building's owner, Beverley Knudsen, say Abbott stole the money over more than two years, beginning in May of 2006. The alleged scheme was simple: Abbott would take cash and checks from tenants and deposit them in a personal account, while telling Knudsen the units were empty or tenants were not paying rent.

''He spent every last cent of it,'' said Erik Knudsen, Beverley Knudsen's son, who has taken over management of the Northgate Apartments. ''The reality is that actually recouping any money is a pretty long shot.''

Attempts to reach Abbott at a relative's home were unsuccessful Wednesday, and Cumberland County Superior Court had no record of a lawyer representing him.

Abbott was indicted by a grand jury last month, and his arraignment is scheduled for Jan. 16. If convicted on the single count of felony theft, Abbott will face a maximum of 10 years in prison.

The Knudsen family has owned the Northgate Apartments since the 1930s. Beverley Knudsen assumed ownership after the death of her husband, N. Richard Knudsen, in 2002. By that time, Abbott was living in the building and working as the building manager.

''He came out to my mother's house every Sunday and sat with her,'' Erik Knudsen said. ''She would give him his paycheck and have a cup of coffee with him.

''As near as I can tell, this started about three years ago in a small way,'' he said. ''He would tell my mother that an apartment was vacant, and it was really full and he was collecting. He just got bolder and bolder.''

Abbott allegedly told Beverley Knudsen that some tenants, including state Rep. Herb Adams, were delinquent on their rent payments.

From October 2007 to July 2008, Beverley Knudsen received no payments from the property, and Abbott provided a series of excuses for the situation, Erik Knudsen said. But Beverley Knudsen did not discuss those problems with her son.

''The feeling I got was that she believed everything he said,'' Erik Knudsen said.

He became aware of the problems in July, when he got a phone call from an 89-year-old aunt who had spoken with Beverley Knudsen about Abbott. Erik Knudsen and his mother went to Portland police, and an investigation was begun.

Erik Knudsen called Abbott and told him to leave the property immediately. They have not spoken since, Knudsen said.

Lt. Tony Ward, head of detectives for the Portland Police Department, said the investigation took several weeks. Detective Christopher Giesecke, the lead investigator, reviewed Abbott's financial records. Ward declined to say what Abbott was doing with the money he allegedly stole.

''Every couple of months, we get a report of a significant theft or embezzlement, involving large amounts of money over long time periods,'' Ward said. ''This is definitely on the larger side of the thefts we see.''

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at:

tmaxwell@pressherald.com

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