Customers reported finding razor blades and razor blade fragments in pizza dough sold by the Hannaford store in Sanford two months ago but the company didn’t notify police and consumers until this week, days after nearly identical incidents triggered a recall and police investigation in Saco.

The previously unreported incidents in Sanford in August and recent reports in Dover, New Hampshire, mean police in three cities across two states are now investigating cases of alleged tampering with bags of pizza dough in Hannaford supermarkets.

Nicholas Mitchell is accused of putting razor blades in pizza dough sold at the Hannaford supermarket in Saco on Oct. 5. Dover, N.H., Police Department via AP

The man charged with inserting razor blades into Portland Pie Co. pizza dough at the Saco Hannaford had been fired from his job as a forklift operator for It’ll Be Pizza, the Scarborough company that produces the fresh dough, according to a police affidavit filed in York County Superior Court.

Nicholas R. Mitchell, 38, made his first court appearance Tuesday in Dover, where he was arrested over the weekend. He agreed to not fight extradition to Maine during a brief hearing in Dover District Court and could be moved to York County Jail this week.

Hannaford said it is aware of malicious tampering that also occurred last week at a store in Dover, and the company acknowledged the Sanford tampering case from August after it was reported by the Press Herald on Tuesday. No charges have been filed in connection with the incidents in Sanford and Dover.

The grocery retailer took responsibility in a written statement for failing to alert police sooner about the Sanford incidents and said it was improving internal policies and procedures to ensure that any future incident is passed up the corporate chain. Hannaford has refused, however, to provide details about the tampering, such as how many products were affected and how many were sold. The company has said it is deferring to police to decide what information should be released.

Hannaford said it called Sanford police about the August incident on Sunday when it realized the issue had not been properly reported at the time. Two customers of the Sanford store on Aug. 14 returned bags of fresh dough that contained a razor blade or a razor blade fragment, Sanford Police Chief Thomas Connolly told the Press Herald on Tuesday.

One of the Sanford customers bought three doughs, found a razor in one of them, and returned all three, Connolly said. The other Sanford customer discovered a razor fragment, but only brought back the fragment; it was unclear what happened to the fourth dough.

Connolly said risk-management employees at the Sanford Hannaford deemed the August incidents as “product issues,” marked the bags with the customers’ names, and stored them in a freezer until the company’s product team could “look into the situation.” The company reported the incidents to police on Sunday, the same day Hannaford expanded a recall of Portland Pie Co. pizza doughs from the Saco store to all of its stores.

“I’m a tad surprised that someone didn’t realize the significance of this, but I don’t know who it was and I’m not casting any aspersions on anyone,” Connolly said about the delay in reporting. “What we were told is whoever saw this thought this was a product issue and not a public safety issue. I hate to criticize people. They probably made the best decision they could make at the time. In retrospect, there was probably a better decision that could have been made.”

Hannaford said the returned pizza dough was reported properly within the store, but there was a breakdown in the company’s process for bringing the matter to the attention of upper level management.

So far, no one has been injured or sickened because of the tampering.

“We are thoroughly reviewing this matter and implementing additional safeguards to ensure this kind of internal reporting problem never occurs again,” Hannaford said in its statement. “Law enforcement agencies were informed about the Sanford product issue as soon as it came to light, and Hannaford is working closely with them to provide the information they need for the investigation. ”

Sanford police are coordinating their investigation with Saco police and the York County District Attorney’s Office to determine what further action may be taken, and the case remains under active investigation, Connolly said.

Saco police plan to charge Mitchell with two felonies: aggravated reckless conduct, and felony-level violating the conditions of his release by possessing a dangerous weapon, a razor blade. His probation officer also took steps to revoke Mitchell’s probation. He could be transported back to Maine as early as Friday.

Mitchell is on probation from a 2018 case in which he pleaded guilty to felony criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon and served seven days in jail. As part of his probation conditions, Mitchell was ordered to undergo anger management counseling and undergo an evaluation for substance use and attend substance use counseling.

He is alleged to have violated that probation in May, when he was arrested for domestic violence assault following an argument with a woman in Sanford in which her son told police that Mitchell punched her in the face.

Dover police on Monday received a report of a supermarket item that was tampered with at the Hannaford on Central Avenue, Dover police Lt. Brant Dolleman said. He declined to say whether the item was pizza dough, but said the customer purchased the item within the last week and reported the irregularity after seeing news coverage of Mitchell’s arrest. Hannaford later confirmed it had received a report of product tampering at the store.

Mitchell was arrested Saturday after police in Dover spotted his vehicle parked outside a home on New Rochester Road. An officer made contact with Mitchell and arrested him, according to the court records.

It’ll Be Pizza is the Scarborough company that produces cheese and dough sold under the Portland Pie Co. brand in Hannaford and other grocery stores throughout New England. The company also produces dough sold under brand names, and on Monday, the company’s chief executive said its products sold by other retailers also may have been effected.

Mike White, CEO of It’ll Be Pizza, released a statement Monday saying the incident “has no direct connection to the Portland Pie Co. restaurants or to any of their menu items.”

The police affidavit by a Saco detective describing the probable cause to charge Mitchell was filed in connection with Mitchell’s 2018 conviction for reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon and as part of the process to revoke his probation status from that case.

Detectives describe how they linked Mitchell to the Saco Hannaford and the alleged tampering by using store surveillance video.

It showed a man wearing a black face mask, a red shirt, sneakers and jeans enter the store and manipulate the dough balls close to his body before placing them back on the display. The person on the video left the store without making a purchase and went to a silver Toyota Camry that had a mismatched black front left fender. Detectives were able to identify six of the seven characters of the car’s license plate from video of the parking lot.

Detectives learned that Old Orchard Beach had stopped Mitchell in May of this year for allegedly attaching false plates to a vehicle. The Saco detective reviewed the body-worn camera footage from the interaction in Old Orchard, and found Mitchell’s vehicle had the same distinct black replacement fender.

Saco detectives also learned that Mitchell had last met with his probation officer on Oct. 5 in the lobby of the South Portland Police Department, the same day that the dough balls were tampered with in Saco. Surveillance video from the probation meeting showed Mitchell wearing a similar outfit – a red T-shirt, black face mask, sneakers and jeans – to that worn by the person seen on the Hannaford store video showing someone manipulating the dough bags.

The probation officer also told detectives that he was recently contacted by a private detective hired by It’ll Be Pizza.

White, the company’s CEO, told Saco police that Mitchell worked as a forklift driver at their warehouse in Scarborough, but he was terminated in June after he did not show up for work too many times because of unidentified personal problems. Since Mitchell was let go, It’ll Be Pizza had received more than 100 harassing phone calls, in which the caller would hold open the line and not say anything when a company employee picked up. The company’s information technology department determined the phone used to make the calls belonged to Mitchell, and matched the number that Mitchell had given his probation officers.

“By placing razor blades in pizza dough, it is terroristic intent to cause bodily injury,” Saco Detective Ryan P. Hatch wrote in the affidavit. “I know razor blades have the ability to cause serious bodily injury to the hands if a person were to push down on the dough during the cooking preparation process or serious bodily injury to the mouth, throat, stomach, etc. if swallowed.”

Mitchell, who told his probation officer that he was living out of his car, began working for It’ll Be Pizza in March 2019, Mark Robinson, a spokesperson for the company, said in an email Tuesday night.

“This appears to have been an irrational and criminal act, and IBC feels very badly that the Hannaford chain was the victim of these incidents,” he said.

Robinson wasn’t able to say how much dough had been recalled. Although all the dough had to be discarded, and the short-term financial blow to the company was significant, he said the company is focusing on the health and well-being of the general public, and its employees.

“IBP feels they have a top-notch work force, and they want the employees to feel that they are secure,” he said.

The recalls are complete or nearly complete, Robinson said, and the company hopes its situation returns to normal in two to three weeks.

The case began when a customer at the Saco Hannaford found razor blades in Portland Pie pizza dough purchased at the store on Oct. 5. Police said they believed someone entered the store’s deli department and inserted the blades.

But the police investigation widened in subsequent days, and on Sunday Hannaford issued a product recall for all Portland Pie dough and cheese products sold at its 184 stores in New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. The recall is retroactive to Aug. 1, Hannaford spokeswoman Ericka Dodge said.

“Hannaford Supermarkets has issued a recall for all Portland Pie cheese and Portland Pie fresh dough sold in the deli department,” Hannaford said in its recall statement. “After what is believed to be further malicious tampering incidents involving metal objects inserted into Portland Pie products, Hannaford has removed all Portland Pie products from all store shelves and has paused replenishment of the products indefinitely.”

The recall expanded to Shaw’s and Star Market stores, whose managers removed Portland Pie Co. dough from shelves at all locations in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont and Rhode Island. No incidents have been reported in supermarkets operated by those chains.

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