A weekend burglary and theft at an American Legion post in Gray is focusing attention on a string of crimes against veterans groups and other nonprofits in Maine, according to police and veterans who have been targeted.

The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office is continuing to investigate the weekend burglary, in which a thief or thieves got away with about $15,000 from American Legion Post 86. And police are exploring whether it could be the latest in a series of thefts targeting nonprofits, especially veterans groups, in Auburn, Augusta and other communities.

“I’m looking throughout the state to see if we have any more as part of the investigation,” Detective Sgt. Paul Thorpe said Monday.

Post 86 Adjutant Jason Hall said some of the younger veterans in his post are more than upset about being targeted.

“They would like to have a little talk with the person before police get him,” Hall said. “It’s the wrong community to mess with.”

Post 86 was broken into around 11 p.m. Saturday, after the group hosted a barbecue for the American Legion national commander, who was vacationing in Maine. American Legion members from all over the state were present.


The wires to the security alarm and telephones were cut, and the thief or thieves forced their way into a concrete-lined metal safe using some sort of grinding tool, according to the post adjutant. About $15,000 from the safe and an undisclosed sum from an ATM were stolen.

The loss is significant considering that the Gray post raised about $160,000 in 2013, according to the most recent tax filings. Hall said the 250-member post is active in the community, whether it’s hosting the Crystal Lake Ice Fishing Derby, organizing Memorial Day or Flag Day events, or supporting a multitude of organizations such as food pantries, Boy Scouts, Special Olympics and little leagues.

Hall, a 46-year-old veteran of the Air Force and Army, expressed gratitude for the community’s support, including a security company that offered to provide a new security system at no cost. He said police appear to be following up on leads and asked post staff to look at photos of potential suspects.

Hall is among those who think the theft is a part of a larger pattern. “It seems like there’s a string of these going on in southern Maine,” he said.

At least three similar incidents have taken place in Auburn, including two American Legion posts and a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall. Auburn police Sgt. Eric Audette said the VFW hall on Minot Avenue and an American Legion post on Washington Street were hit within weeks of each other back in May. He believes the burglaries are connected to the one in Gray, since there are similarities in how the thieves gained access.

“It’s an ongoing investigation. There are other communities it has happened in as well,” Audette said.


Alain Laverdure, commander of the American Legion Post 31 in Auburn, said a thief or thieves used similar tactics by cutting phone lines at around 2 or 3 a.m. and breaking into a safe with hammers and crowbars, making off with about $1,200, he said.

“It was the same scenario,” said Laverdure, a 49-year-old Lewiston resident who served five years in the Air Force and nearly two years in the Army National Guard. “When they broke in, the alarm never went off. We didn’t have nearly as much money as the Gray post.”

Laverdure said security cameras at the post captured the burglar’s image on video. Police said the individual was not identifiable.

“There are a lot of angry veterans,” he said. “Hopefully this publicity will put whoever is doing this behind bars.”

Michael Davis, commander of the VFW Post 1603 in Auburn, said a thief or thieves made off $1,400 in May, using similar methods. That incident also occurred after a fundraiser, he said.

In Augusta, an Elks Lodge on Civic Center Drive was hit May 25 or May 26 using similar methods, said Augusta police Detective Sgt. Jason Cote. He declined to disclose the amount of money stolen, citing the ongoing investigation. Other incidents have occurred in Knox County, he said.


“I feel like they’re connected,” Cote said.

Paul L’Heureux, adjutant for the American Legion Department of Maine, said incidents such as these – whether it’s stealing several hundred dollars or several thousand – affects the nonprofits’ ability to give back to the community and to help veterans.

“We served our country. Now we’ve come back to serve our communities and that’s what they do,” said L’Heureux, a 66-year-old Auburn resident who served four years in the Navy and 23 years in the Army Reserve. “We’re not out to make money. We’re out to raise money. We try to keep turning it around.”

L’Heureux said nonprofit groups, such as the American Legion and the VFW, are vulnerable to burglaries because they advertise their fundraising events in the newspaper and often announce the amount of money they raised.

There are 176 American Legion posts with roughly 22,000 members in Maine, L’Heureux said.

The Gray post is “one of our premier posts for younger veterans,” he said. “They’re doing a dynamic job there. This has really hurt them when it comes to paying our bills and helping the community.”

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