Nicholas R. Mitchell Maine Department of Corrections Photo

ALFRED — Nicholas R. Mitchell, the 38-year-old accused of inserting razor blades into packages of fresh Portland Pie Co., pizza dough at a Saco supermarket on Oct. 5, is being held without bail until his next court appearance in November.

The former forklift operator at It’ll Be Pizza worked there for 15 months before he was fired because he didn’t show up for work and didn’t call in.

He was arrested in Dover, New Hampshire, on Oct. 11, and waived extradition back to Maine in a court appearance in the Granite State two days later. He was returned to Maine where he made a first appearance Friday, Oct. 16 at Biddeford District Court by video link from York County Jail. He did not enter a plea.

Mitchell, who had a Sanford address but told his probation officer he was living in his car, was charged by Saco Police with Class C felony counts of reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon, by allegedly creating a substantial risk of serious bodily injury to a Saco woman who had purchased pizza  dough at the store, and with violating conditions of his release on a prior charge. A Class C felony carries a maximum prison term of five years, upon conviction.

No injuries have been reported, said Hannaford officials, who recalled the dough from the Saco supermarket, and later pulled the product from all its stores.

On Friday, District Judge Matthew Tice set bail at $20,000 for the new charges. But Mitchell is still being held without bail on separate violations of his bail and probation conditions. So he will likely remain at the jail until at least a dispositional conference scheduled for Nov. 18, according to the Portland Press Herald.

An Oct. 9 affidavit by Det. Ryan Hatch of Saco Police Department supporting that agency’s request for Mitchell’s arrest said after he was terminated from his job in June, It’ll Be Pizza began to receive harassing telephone calls — more than 100 in all. Company officials told police the calls were not threatening — when company personnel picked up the ringing phone, they were met with silence. The affidavit said the calls were traced to Mitchell’s number.

It’ll Be Pizza declined to comment specifically on Mitchell’s tenure at the Scarborough-based dough company, citing employment confidentially laws, but through spokesman Mark Robinson said “there were ample, logical, and very compelling reasons why Mr. Mitchell’s employment did not last more than 15 months.”

It’ll Be Pizza supplies dough to a number of different companies, primarily in New England. but also in the mid-Atlantic states and the Midwest. Robinson said It’ll Be Pizza sells about 500,000 cases of dough annually.

“The first It’ll Be Pizza heard about any problem with razor blades was on Oct. 6, when they were contacted by Hannaford,” said Robinson in a statement. “At that time, Hannaford considered the problem to be, in their words, ‘outside of production.’ It’ll Be Pizza certainly agreed with that. Hannaford’s conclusion was entirely consistent with the stringent quality control processes that It’ll Be Pizza employs.”

The dough company, which employs 65 people, pulled product from store shelves, said Robinson. He said while the product had to be discarded, which hurt financially, the company was concerned about the health and well-being of the general public.

He said the long term outlook is better, and there has been “a flood” of supportive messages.

“This appears to have been an irrational and criminal act, and It’ll Be Pizza feels very badly that the Hannaford chain was the victim of these incidents,” said Robinson on the company’s behalf.

Mitchell has a prior conviction for criminal threatening in York County. State corrections records available online show Mitchell was sentenced in September 2018 to two years in prison, with all but seven days suspended, and two years probation following a conviction on that charge. He was to seek anger management counseling, evaluation, and counseling for substance abuse, and was not to use or possess dangerous weapons, among other conditions of his probation. He had been scheduled to be released from probation in March 2021.

According to the Portland Press Herald, Mitchell was charged with theft in 2018, but pleaded guilty to another, unspecified charge, and was fined $500. He has one pending case in York County from May, when he was charged with violating the conditions of his release.

Two people had returned Portland Pie Co. fresh dough to the Saco Hannaford after finding razor blades inside Oct. 5. The company issued a product recall and informed Saco Police, which began an investigation.

Other, earlier incidents then surfaced. Two customers of Hannaford in Sanford reported finding razor blades or pieces of blades in their dough in August and told store employees about it, according to the Portland Press Herald. Hannaford attributed the failure to take action in August to a technology fault in their internal reporting system. Hannaford has promised to add more safeguards to the internal system, and apologized to consumers for the error, the Portland Press Herald report said.

Police in Dover, New Hampshire, are also investigating a report of food product tampering at one of two Hannaford locations there. A Dover police lieutenant declined to confirm that it involved fresh pizza dough, the Press Herald said.

In addition, Saco police have said they are sharing information with about their investigation with federal authorities, according to the Portland Press Herald. It is a federal crime to tamper with food products in a way that affects interstate commerce, even if no one is sickened or harmed. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office said he could not confirm or deny any investigation.

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