July 10, 2013

Special federal agents sworn in as part of Maine’s pharmacy robbery crackdown

By Craig Crosby ccrosby@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

and Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Maine’s 58 pharmacy robberies in 2012 were more than double any previous year, and now authorities are striking back with threats of harsher penalties and greater involvement from the federal government.

click image to enlarge

Stone Street Hannaford pharmacy manager Elizabeth Granholm posts a notice Tuesday from the Maine U.S. Attorney's Office stating that robbing a pharmacy is a federal crime. The FBI, DEA and ATF are now assisting local police with solving Maine pharmacy robberies. Augusta Police Lt. Det. Keith Brann said his agency will attempt to post the notices at every pharmacy in the city.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Law enforcement officers from around the state will be sworn in as special federal agents today as part of the ongoing efforts to amp-up cooperative efforts to prosecute those accused of robbing pharmacies.

The 18 state, county and local law enforcement officers will assist federal agents investigating robberies and burglaries that occur at pharmacies, as well as investigations of prescription drug abuse, said U.S. Attorney Thomas Delahanty. The deputized officers serve in departments across the state, including the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office and Augusta Police, assisting in the response to what the U.S. Attorney’s Office calls a drug crisis.

At the same time, police across the state spent part of this week distributing signs to pharmacies announcing that those who rob the pharmacy or break in after hours for prescription pills can be charged federally.

Delahanty extended the offer of federal prosecution for robberies when he took office in 2010. There were only a few takers until last year, when the number of pharmacy robberies soared to historic levels.

The number of pharmacy robberies spiked to 58 in 2012 after 24 in 2011. Augusta had a statewide high of nine.

There were eight pharmacy robberies statewide in 2009, Delahanty said.

“The FBI approach (to pharmacy robberies) is similar to bank robberies,” Delahanty said. “It’s just a different business. That’s where the idea of stickers came from. They commonly distributed stickers to banks. We like to think it’s somewhat of a deterrent.”

Kevin Holland, owner of Variety Drug in Skowhegan and Mt. Blue Drug in Farmington, said he got the display stickers this week and they’re on the doors of his pharmacies.

“Anything to deter that from happening, I think, is a good idea,” Holland said Wednesday.

The 6-by-9-inch stickers say that robbery, burglary and theft of prescription drugs committed at the pharmacies will be investigated and prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office.

For nearly 20 years, the Skowhegan drug store had a sign that said robberies were a federal crime and punishable by up to 20 years in prison, Holland said. The new sign says the effort is part of Project Safe. The FBI, U.S. Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and Drug Enforcement Agency initials are listed on the signs.

Holland said his stores have good alarms and high-definition camera systems. He said other pharmacies have upgraded to such equipment to help deter robberies and thefts as well.

Maeghan Maloney, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties, said she has given the U.S. Attorney’s Office permission to proceed on all pharmacy robberies in Kennebec and Somerset because that office “is able to get a stiffer sentence than we are.”

“I can’t think of any reason to be territorial about this,” Maloney said Wednesday. “If they can get a better sentence and they want to proceed — fantastic. If they don’t proceed, then we will.”

There have been six pharmacy robberies in Maine since January, which is well below last year’s pace.

“It’s a lot fewer, but it’s six too many,” Delahanty said. “We’ve been extremely lucky there have been no serious injuries.”

One of those six robberies occurred in Augusta. Two people have pleaded guilty in connection with the January hold up and face up to 20 years in prison and a fine up to $250,000.

There have also been robberies in Sanford, Windham, Yarmouth, Kingfield and Bath. Charges have been brought in all those cases, Delahanty said. In one case, charges were dismissed, and in two others, the state will prosecute. Federal prosecutors have brought charges in the Kingfield robbery and charged two Dresden residents with a June 14 robbery in Bath.

(Continued on page 2)

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