August 20, 2011

Man guilty, wife innocent in redemption scam

By Leslie Bridgers
Staff Writer

ALFRED -- A Kittery man was found guilty Friday while his wife was acquitted on charges of stealing more than $10,000 in refunds and handling fees for beverage containers that were brought to their redemption center from out of state.

The verdicts were handed up in York County Superior Court by two separate juries in the state's first criminal trial over bottle redemption fraud, a prevalent problem along Maine's border.

Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin tried to prove during the four-day trial that Megan and Thomas Woodard, former owners of Green Bee Redemption in Kittery, had helped to set up satellite redemption centers at an indoor sports complex in Derry, N.H., and at their employee's home in Gloucester, Mass.

She presented pictures of the elaborate container-sorting operations at both of those locations and evidence to show that Dennis Reed, owner of the SportsZone in Derry, N.H., and Thomas Prybot, the redemption center employee, had arrangements with the Woodards to drop off large quantities of containers outside normal operating hours.

Robbin said Reed and Prybot were paid by check for redeeming more than 100,000 containers from 2008 to 2010.

The Woodards' attorneys said the couple didn't know the containers had been purchased out of state. Green Bee had on file a form filled out by Reed, saying the containers had come from sports complexes in Maine. Prybot testified Tuesday that the Woodards never asked him where his containers had been bought.

Maine customers pay 5-cent deposits to beverage distributors when they buy most canned and bottled drinks. Wine and liquor bottles carry 15-cent deposits.

In Massachusetts, deposits are paid only on beer, malt and carbonated beverages, not on water, juice and sports drinks, as they are in Maine. There are no deposits on bottle and cans bought in New Hampshire.

About $8 million in bottle redemption fraud occurs annually in Maine, said Newell Augur, executive director of the Maine Beverage Association. The illegal activity is concentrated in towns along the state's border, where residents from Maine and New Hampshire can easily buy beverages in New Hampshire without deposits and redeem the containers in Maine for refunds.

Some companies mark containers to indicate where they are sold but, for the most part, it's hard to tell. The state instructs redemption centers to post warning signs saying it is illegal to redeem out-of-state containers and to question customers with out-of-state license plates.

"The whole bottle bill is built on the honor system," Augur said. "When people have dishonorable intentions, the whole thing breaks down."

Green Bee posted the warning signs and asked customers with out-of-state plates to fill out forms saying where in Maine they had bought the containers they were redeeming.

Robbin said any redemption center owner would have been suspicious of the quantity of bottles and cans dropped off by Reed and Prybot, which ranged from 3,400 to 10,900 containers per load, knowing that both men lived out of state.

She said the Woodards allowed the illegal drop-offs to collect handling fees from distributors. At the time of the drop-offs, that fee was 3 or 3.5 cents per container, depending on the beverage manufacturer.

Each of the Woodards was indicted in February on a charge of theft by deception. They were accused on stealing more than $10,000 from Maine beverage manufacturers, distributors and their collection agents, including Pepsi Bottling Group, National Distributors and Returnable Services.

Reed was indicted in July on a charge of stealing more than $1,000 from Maine distributors. He is scheduled to appear in York County Superior Court in October. The state agreed not to prosecute Prybot in exchange for his testimony.

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