A lawsuit by a Saco lobster wholesaler that alleges a partner in the business embezzled more than $1.5 million has been moved to federal court and expanded with new defendants and RICO charges.

The original lawsuit was filed in August in York County Superior Court. It was moved this month to U.S. District Court in Portland.

The wholesaler, Sea Salt, which also operates a restaurant on Route 1 in Saco, alleges that the man overseeing the company’s shipping operation, Matthew Bellerose of Scarborough, set up a sham customer with another man and then sent the phony client thousands of dollars’ worth of lobsters without billing him. The lobsters were then resold, the lawsuit says.

Bellerose had become a partner in Sea Salt shortly before the alleged embezzlement was uncovered early this summer, the lawsuit says. He allegedly confessed to his partners after they discovered the alleged embezzlement, saying he felt under financial pressure to come up with the money needed to buy his stake in the company.

The original suit targeted Bellerose and his alleged co-conspirator, Vincent J. Mastropasqua of Portland. The two were accused of working together to send lobsters from Sea Salt to a fictitious customer named “Mastro’s.” Sea Salt alleges that Bellerose didn’t create invoices for many of the shipments to “Mastro’s” and that the lobsters sent to that customer were resold, with Bellerose and Mastropasqua pocketing at least $1.5 million and perhaps as much as $2 million.

Amanda Bellerose, Matthew Bellerose’s wife, is added as a defendant in the federal suit, which claims she was unjustly enriched by her husband’s actions.

According to the lawsuit, Amanda Bellerose used the money coming in from the alleged embezzlement to book family vacations to the Bahamas and Florida and to buy “expensive handbags, cars and Rolexes.”

The suit says she concocted text messages with Mastropasqua after her husband was fired to make it look as if she and Mastropasqua were not involved in Bellerose’s alleged embezzlement and the reselling of lobsters. A Superior Court judge relied on those texts, in large part, in deciding to lift an attachment on Mastropasqua’s bank accounts and other holdings before the case was moved to federal court. A similar request by Amanda Bellerose to lift an attachment order – saying that some of the money in a joint account with her husband represents her own assets – is now pending in federal court. Oral arguments on that motion are set for next week.

The lawsuit also adds United Parcel Service as a defendant, alleging that the company failed to exercise control over its premises and over Mastropasqua, an employee of UPS, because its store in Scarborough was used as the business location for “Mastro’s” as well as East End Transport, another company operated by Bellerose and Mastropasqua. The suit also alleges that UPS drivers saw and heard things at Sea Salt that weren’t normal and should have “raised multiple red flags about possible illegal activity.” For instance, the suit says, a UPS driver said she was told by Bellerose to cover the return address label on some of the boxes of lobsters to be shipped.

In addition, Mastropasqua’s brother, Anthony Mastropasqua, who the suit said “had connections in New York,” has been added as a defendant, and the suit now alleges civil violations of the RICO Act, a federal law frequently used against organized crime figures who are accused of running a criminal enterprise. The statute can be used in some cases to seek civil penalties.

According to the suit, one 2014 transaction in which Anthony Mastropasqua played a role involved $525,000 worth of frozen lobster tails.

Laura White, Sea Salt’s lawyer, said the case was moved to federal court and RICO charges were added because she and her client wanted to show the extent of the involvement of others in the alleged embezzlement beyond Matthew Bellerose. Because UPS is headquartered in Ohio, for instance, such a suit would have to be heard in federal court.

A lawyer for Bellerose did not respond to a call seeking comment.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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