A top manager at ecomaine’s Portland recycling facility was fired in March for destroying documents, and police are now investigating the theft of more than $300,000 from the publicly owned nonprofit.

John Morin was fired from his position as plant manager on March 8 for “unexplained irregularities” at the facility and failing to follow procedures and policies, according to a copy of Morin’s termination letter, which was provided to the Press Herald in response to a Freedom of Access Act request.

Recycling material is pushed into mounds before being sorted at ecomaine. Derek Davis file

“We trusted you to manage the recycling facility in a professional and ethical manner and you have violated that trust,” ecomaine General Manager Kevin Roche wrote in the letter.

Meanwhile, Morin is named in a search warrant affidavit that says Portland police are investigating a suspected theft from ecomaine of an estimated $309,000 over an unspecified number of years. The search warrant was filed in Cumberland County Unified Court last month and allowed police to access computer files at an employment agency that worked with ecomaine.

Neither Morin nor anyone else has been charged with a crime in connection with the investigation.

Ecomaine was insured against criminal activity, Roche said in an interview. In May, ecomaine received more than $299,000 following a claim under the policy, according to a payment receipt released in response to a FOAA request.

A day before ecomaine fired Morin, the nonprofit reported the accounting discrepancies to police, according to the search warrant. Roche declined to discuss most aspects of Morin’s employment, his termination or the investigation, and referred questions to police, who also declined to comment.

“It’s an active investigation, so I can’t talk about it,” said Portland police Lt. Robert Martin.

Ecomaine provides recycling services to 73 communities and is jointly owned by 20 municipalities, making it a quasi-public nonprofit. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2018, ecomaine sold nearly $2.2 million worth of recycled material out of $18.8 million in gross revenue. In that same year, ecomaine operated at a loss of about $1.2 million, according to its most recent annual report.

Morin was hired as plant manager in 2007. Before he was fired, his annual salary was $90,573, according to ecomaine.

No one answered the door at Morin’s Scarborough home Thursday afternoon, and he did not return a phone message left with his wife.

Information about the police investigation was included in an affidavit in support of a search warrant filed in Cumberland County Unified Court that provides a look at what avenues police are exploring as they investigate whether a theft occurred.

The search warrant, filed Aug. 2 by Portland police Detective Jeffrey Druan, authorized Druan to search the Portland office of All Temp Services, a staffing agency, for records related to three people who supposedly worked at ecomaine as temporary workers.

According to the search warrant, the theft investigation is focused on two aspects of ecomaine’s business. The first involves the regular use of temporary workers. The second is related to ecomaine’s sale of large quantities of recycled steel and aluminum to other scrap metal businesses.

Police are investigating whether ecomaine was overbilled by the staffing agency, according to the search warrant. According to the warrant, Roche told a police officer that over a 29-month period, Morin signed time sheets for work that was never performed. The loss to ecomaine was valued at $189,000.

In one example from February 2019, a job order signed by Morin contained the names of three temporary employees who allegedly worked 40 hours that week, according to the search warrant. But police subpoenaed All Temp’s bank records and found that no one with those three names was paid by All Temp that week or on any week during the preceding 12 months, Druan wrote.

All Temp is owned and operated by Daniel Nere, and the company has offices on Pleasant Street in Portland and in Old Orchard Beach. One of All Temp’s employees told police that Nere and Morin had lunch together once a week at Hi Bombay restaurant next to All Temp’s Portland office, which was also a violation of ecomaine’s employee policies, according to the police affidavit.

“We have very strict rules and ethical standards on how we operate,” Roche said, when asked about the lunches. “I follow those rules, and I expect our staff to follow those rules very strictly and very tightly. Wining and dining is not something that is acceptable in the ecomaine policy.”

Reached by phone Thursday, Nere said he no longer does business with ecomaine, but otherwise declined to respond to questions about the police investigation.

“I have to discuss that with a lawyer first,” Nere said. “I cannot discuss anything with you.”

The other portion of the loss incurred by ecomaine, of about $120,000, related to irregularities in the sale of recycled steel and aluminum, which are baled up after sorting and auctioned by the ton to the highest bidder. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2018, ecomaine was paid on average $166 per ton for steel and $425 per ton for aluminum, ecomaine said.

A review by ecomaine of its computer records showed multiple instances in which someone using Morin’s computer credentials changed the material type in ecomaine’s computer before the loads were sold, according to the search warrant. The review found discrepancies that dated to as early as 2014.

When Roche confronted one scrap buyer about a discrepancy in January 2019, the scrap metal buyer could not provide any documentation backing up his claim that the material he bought was in fact steel. The scrap metal buyer then paid for the true value of the aluminum load, $5,448, according to the search warrant.

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