August 19, 2011

Juries get redemption theft cases

The defense maintains the state failed to prove the center's owners knowingly took in ineligible bottles.

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

ALFRED - Two juries will begin separate deliberations today in the trials of a married couple who owned a redemption center in Kittery and are accused of stealing more than $10,000 in refunds and handling fees for beverage containers from out of state.

The prosecution contends that Megan and Thomas Woodard, who owned Green Bee Redemption, knowingly allowed the owner of a sports complex in New Hampshire and their own employee, who lived in Massachusetts, to redeem more than 100,000 out-of-state containers at their business from 2008 to 2010.

The Woodards' motive, the prosecution said, was to collect handling fees of 3 or 3.5 cents per container.

The Woodards were indicted in February on felony charges of theft by deception. The money came from Maine beverage manufacturers, distributors and their collection agents, including Pepsi Bottling Group, National Distributors and Returnable Services.

The Woodards' attorneys say they did not know that the bottles redeemed by Dennis Reed, the owner of SportsZone in Derry, N.H., and by their part-time employee, Thomas Prybot, had been purchased out of state.

Superior Court Justice Carl Bradford is presiding over the trials, which began Tuesday in York County Superior Court. After the conclusion of testimony Thursday, attorneys gave their closing arguments, first to the jury for Megan Woodard and then to the jury for Thomas Woodard.

Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin said evidence showed that the Woodards arranged for Reed and Prybot to drop off large quantities of containers outside of normal operating hours and get paid later by check, so they wouldn't have to interact with other employees, who might question the origin of the bottles and cans.

"What you've learned is that redemption is a dirty business," Robbin told the juries.

Attorneys for the Woodards depicted the couple as honest business owners who trusted their customers and employees to obey a law that's easy to break, because most containers don't carry obvious indications of where they were purchased.

Megan Woodard's attorney, Walter McKee, said the only people proven guilty by the state during the trial were Reed and Prybot.

Robbin argued that innocent operators of a redemption center would have been suspicious of Reed and Prybot for bringing in large loads of pre-sorted containers in vehicles with out-of-state license plates. Reed drove an SUV with New Hampshire plates, and Prybot had a pickup truck with Massachusetts plates.

"They were operating a licensed redemption center," Robbin said. "They don't just take people's words."

McKee questioned why, if Megan Woodard was involved in an illegal scheme, she would pay Reed and Prybot by check rather than in cash. There would be no record of cash transactions.

Robbin said Woodard didn't think she would get caught.

In February 2010, Randy Trahan, an inspector from the Maine Department of Agriculture, got a tip from an employee at SportsZone that the business had been sorting empty containers sold there and hauling them out by the trailer-full on a monthly basis. Containers purchased in New Hampshire don't carry a deposit, so they cannot be returned for refunds.

The tip led Trahan to set up surveillance of the indoor sports complex, and, one night in March 2010, he caught Reed hauling 11,000 containers from SportsZone and unloading them in a box truck parked behind Green Bee's office on Route 1 in Kittery. The redemption center, where customers brought their containers during normal operating hours, is on Old Post Road, about a mile from the office.

An investigation by Detective Bruce Densmore of the Maine Attorney General's Office revealed that, over a two-year period, the Woodards had written Reed 10 checks in amounts ranging from $340 to $543, which would represent 5-cent refunds on loads ranging from about 6,800 to about 10,900 containers, Robbin said.

Most beverage containers in Maine carry a 5-cent deposit. The deposit is 15 cents for wine and liquor bottles.

In the Woodards' bank records, Densmore noted seven checks written to Prybot in amounts ranging from $169 to $470. According to Robbin, the checks were for loads of 5-cent containers as small as 3,400 and as large as 9,400.

In April 2010, Trahan said, Woodard told him he believed that Reed's containers were coming from sports complexes in Saco and York that Reed told Woodard he operated. Prybot testified Tuesday that the Woodards never asked him where his containers had been purchased.

Prybot admitted that he brought containers to Green Bee from his home in Massachusetts, whose bottle law applies only to beer, malt and carbonated beverages, not water, juice and sports drinks, as Maine's does. The state agreed not to prosecute him in exchange for his testimony.

Reed was indicted by a York County grand jury in July on a charge of stealing more than $1,000 from Maine bottle manufacturers, distributors and their collection agents. He is scheduled to appear in court in October.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

lbridgers@mainetoday.com

 

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