A couple from Kittery and a Massachusetts lobsterman are accused of scamming Maine’s beverage distributors for thousands of dollars by turning in truckloads of bottles and cans from out of state.

Thomas and Megan Woodard, who operate Green Bee Redemption in Kittery, were indicted Thursday by a York County grand jury on felony charges of stealing more than $10,000 by passing off no-deposit containers from New Hampshire and Massachusetts as if they were from Maine.

With each container earning a 5-cent refund and a handling fee of as much as 4 cents, that would be more than 110,000 bottles and cans.

Peter Prybot, a lobsterman and writer from Gloucester, Mass., was indicted on charges of stealing more than $1,000 by shuttling out-of-state containers to Maine distributors.

Reached at his home, Prybot said he will be cleared.

“I’m completely not guilty and my testimony will prove that,” said Prybot, who noted that he comes to Maine often for business.

He said many Maine returnables end up in landfills or washed up on shore, although he didn’t say that’s where he got his containers.

Prybot said he couldn’t haul large quantities of returnables to Maine because he drives a small truck. “For them to go after me, that really says something about the state of Maine and that Attorney General’s Office,” he said.

Thomas Woodard declined to comment about the allegations, saying only: “I know very little about it at this point.”

The indictments allege that the Woodards, from 2008 to 2010, and Prybot, from 2008 to 2009, stole by deceiving manufacturers, distributors and their collection agents — including Pepsi Bottling Group, National Distributors and Returnable Services — by passing off out-of-state containers as if they had been purchased in Maine.

The allegations bear a striking resemblance to a well-known episode of “Seinfeld,” said Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin, who is prosecuting the case. The characters Kramer and Newman used a postal truck to take 5-cent returnables from New York to Michigan, where they are worth 10 cents. They ultimately jettisoned their cargo and didn’t complete the trip.

In 2007, police in Michigan broke up a ring that brought out-of-state cans into that state and turned them in as locally purchased returnables, according to published reports. Police recovered $500,000 in a raid and charged 10 people with a series of felonies.

Authorities said at the time that such fraud cost Michigan $13 million per year.

Maine’s beverage industry says Thursday’s indictments show there is a major problem in Maine.

“It’s endemic, and it always gets worse when there’s a downturn in the economy,” said Newell Augur, executive director of the Maine Beverage Association. “There are more bad actors looking at ways to steal money from Maine consumers.”

People who have access to landfills or recycling centers in Massachusetts or New Hampshire gather huge quantities of cans and bottles and bring them into Maine in tractor-trailer trucks, Augur said.

“They find a redemption center that’s willing to turn a blind eye and it results in millions of dollars of losses every year,” he said.

New Hampshire doesn’t have a bottle deposit law. Massachusetts does, but it covers only carbonated beverages so consumers don’t pay deposits on water, juice and sports drinks, as they do in Maine.

“We can’t stop and go through every single bag and find these things,” Augur said. “That’s why we would conservatively estimate the fraud at nearing $8 million to $10 million a year.”

The indictments could strengthen efforts to roll back portions of Maine’s bottle bill, which is among the most expansive in the country. Augur said his association does not favor repealing the bottle bill, but does support a bill to study modifications.

Prosecution of the Woodards and Prybot could be a deterrent to a problem that seems, because of hauling costs, to be concentrated on the state’s western border.

Robbin said the state will seek jail time. The Woodards are charged with Class B felonies because the alleged theft exceeded $10,000, a crime punishable by as much as 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine. The Class C felony that Prybot is charged with is punishable by as much as five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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