August 18, 2011

Illegal bottles came in, but did center owners know?

The defendants' attorneys say no, but prosecutors in $10,000 Maine theft trials try to show otherwise.

By Leslie Bridgers
Staff Writer

ALFRED - On the night of March 18, 2010, Dennis Reed towed a trailer carrying 56 bags filled with more than 11,000 empty bottles and cans from his sports complex in Derry, N.H., to the office of Green Bee Redemption in Kittery, where he unloaded them into a box truck parked behind the building, according to testimony Wednesday by an inspector from the Maine Department of Agriculture.

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WHAT’S NEXT: Additional testimony and closing arguments are expected when the trials resume today in York County Superior Court.

The question is whether former Green Bee owners Megan and Thomas Woodard knew the delivery was coming from out of state and allowed it so they could receive handling fees for redeeming the out-of-state containers, which is illegal because no Maine deposit had been paid out when the beverages were purchased.

Randy Trahan, who is in charge of inspecting Maine redemption centers and enforcing the state's bottle law, had set up surveillance of the sports complex after receiving a tip from one of its employees that the business was sorting its empty beverage containers and hauling them away. New Hampshire has no container deposit law.

Trahan will continue testifying today in York County Superior Court in the trials of the Woodards, who are accused of stealing more than $10,000 from Maine manufacturers, distributors and collection agents by paying refunds to customers and collecting handling fees on bottles and cans that were purchased out of state, with no deposits paid, from 2008 to 2010.

A 5-cent deposit is added to the price of most bottled and canned drinks sold in Maine. Bottles of wine and spirits carry a 15-cent deposit. Customers can get the deposits refunded by returning the containers to Maine redemption centers, which are paid a handling fee of 3 or 3.5 cents per container.

The Woodards' attorneys say they were unaware they had received containers that were not purchased in Maine.

Reed, the owner of SportsZone, a New Hampshire indoor sports complex, was indicted by a York County grand jury in July for allegedly stealing more than $1,000 from manufacturers, distributors and collection agents. He is scheduled to appear in York County Superior Court on the theft charge in October.

Larry Gillis and Peter Ogilvie, former Green Bee employees, testified on Wednesday, the second day of the trial, that they had no dealings with customers dropping containers off after hours at the Green Bee office on U.S. Route 1. The Green Bee redemption center, where customers typically dropped off containers, is at a different location on Old Post Road, less than a mile away from the office.

Gillis and Ogilvie also said they were unaware that their former co-worker, Thomas Prybot, was bringing large quantities of containers from his home in Gloucester, Mass., to Green Bee, where he had been working two days a week. Massachusetts does have a bottle law, but deposits are added only to the price of beer, malt and carbonated beverages -- not water, juice or sports drinks, as Maine does.

Prybot, 22, testified Tuesday that he received several checks for hundreds of dollars, written by Megan Woodard, for those containers. The state agreed not to prosecute Prybot in exchange for his testimony in the Woodard trials.

Prybot said the Woodards never explicitly asked him where he purchased the containers he redeemed.

Reed had filled out a form saying his containers came from Maine. Green Bee employees were instructed to hand the form to customers who arrived at the redemption center in vehicles with out-of-state license plates.

Gillis said he didn't know who Dennis Reed was. Ogilvie said he had one encounter with Reed, and it was during Green Bee's normal operating hours, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. He said Reed arrived at Green Bee with a trailer filled with bags of empty containers. He said he asked Reed where the containers were from, because Reed's vehicle had New Hampshire license plates.

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