Windham man sentenced for phony tax refunds

A Windham man who used the names of his restaurant co-workers to apply for state rent and property-tax refunds has been sentenced to nine months in prison.

Attorney General Janet Mills said Michael Rice, 40, pleaded guilty in Cumberland County Superior Court to aggravated forgery, theft by deception and misuse of identification. He was sentenced Friday to two years in prison with all but nine months and one day suspended. He will be required to pay back the money he stole.

According to Mills, Rice applied for refunds online using names of his former co-workers at the Tortilla Flat restaurant in Portland. He then arranged to have more than $5,000 in refunds deposited directly into his bank account.

Prosecutors said Rice also fraudulently completed an online Maine income tax return for another person without that person’s knowledge. Rice diverted that refund to his own bank account, prosecutors said.

“Not only did Rice victimize the individual taxpayers whose identities he stole, he also stole from the honest citizens of Maine who continue to pay their taxes during hard times,” Mills said.

County jail staff pumped up to support a good cause

Corrections officers and sheriff’s deputies at the Cumberland County Jail have been lifting weights for a good cause.

Sixteen officers competed in the jail’s first weightlifting competition to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Wearing T-shirts that read: “Behind Bars” the officers competed in different weight classes to see who could bench press the most, raising $450 in the process.

The top female competitor was Deputy Rhonda Pratt, who put up 135 pounds. The top male lifter was Corrections Officer Luke House, who lifted 370 pounds, giving new meaning to the expression ‘getting sent to the big house.’

Organizer Deputy Richard Bradway said the group wants to expand the competition to other law enforcement agencies.

City Council agrees to fund homeless outreach team

Plans to create a mobile emergency response team to help drunken and drug-addicted people get off city streets and into treatment will move ahead this summer following approval Monday by the City Council.

City councilors approved devoting $100,000 in federal funding for the project as part of the annual Community Development Block Grant program. The money will allow the program to start in July, while organizers will seek other sources of long-term funding.

The program, called the HOME Team – Homeless Outreach and Mobile Emergency Team – will include two outreach workers in a van and two on foot in the downtown area.

Shopkeepers and others now call police to remove publicly intoxicated people who may be fighting, loitering or even passed out. These people are frequently returned to the street after a trip to the hospital or jail. The HOME Team will reduce pressure on police and rescue personnel and eventually bring more alcoholics and addicts into long-term treatment, organizers say.

Milestone Foundation Inc., which operates a homeless shelter and detoxification center, is leading the project. Other partners include the city’s Health and Human Services and police departments, the Portland Downtown District, Preble Street, Mercy Hospital and Youth Alternatives Ingraham.

Fire-prevention video to feature local firefighter

A local animation company is creating an educational fire prevention video that features a city firefighter.

Sputnik Animation was awarded the contract to produce “Fire Alarms: A Sound You Can Live With” for the National Fire Protection Association. The 10- to 12-minute video has a reality TV theme and will feature live video within animation, said Kateri Carelli, production manager.

South Portland firefighter Jeff Rogers has been cast as the host and will be interacting with a squad of animated fire alarms.

The opening scene at the Fire Department’s Central Station will be shot today. Shooting will continue at a home in Scarborough on Thursday and Friday.

Plummer Motz competing for ‘greenest school’ title

Jen Merrifield’s fourth-graders at the Plummer Motz School are among 10 groups of finalists in a national contest to be named America’s Greenest School.

Their video promoting ways to save energy and natural resources puts them in the running for a $150,000 hybrid school bus, a $20,000 environmental school-building makeover and other prizes.

Top entries are posted at americasgreenestschool.com, where the public can vote through April 2.

A winner will be announced the week of April 21.

Students across the country were asked to submit entries explaining how they would make their school a greener, more environmentally friendly place.

Merrifield’s students made a video, “We Invite You,” demonstrating simple things students and others can do to be more green, from stopping dripping faucets to carpooling or riding the school bus instead of being chauffeured individually by their parents.

Their video was among 550 entries in the contest sponsored by IC Bus, a school-bus manufacturer in Warrenville, Ill., and it’s the only finalist from Maine.

Other prizes include a free concert by The Maine, the official band of America’s Greenest School; a $3,000 scholarship for the winning student and/or classroom; $500 in classroom supplies for the winning sponsor/teacher; and a $100 Visa gift card awarded to one voter each day during the voting period.

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