, Gloucester, MA

October 25, 2012

Conviction appealed in Maine bottle case

By Ann S. Kim Portland Press Herald
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — BIDDEFORD, Maine — The former owner of a Kittery redemption center is appealing his conviction for stealing more than $10,000 from Maine’s beverage manufacturers and distributors in a case with Gloucester ties.

Thomas Woodard was convicted in 2011 on a count of theft by deception for stealing refunds and handling fees for beverage containers that were purchased in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Woodard, who owned Green Bee Redemption with his wife, Megan, was sentenced to 21 days in jail. His sentence is on hold during the appeals process. Megan Woodard was acquitted in the case.

During a four-day trial last year, the prosecution argued that the Woodards set up satellite redemption centers in a sports complex in Derry, N.H., and at an employee’s home in Gloucester. The result was that more than 100,000 containers from those states were redeemed at Green Bee between 2008 and 2010, according to the prosecution, with the Woodards and colleagues pocketing the difference between the bottle deposit paid in Massachusetts and the higher payouts granted in Maine.

Prosecutors had said last year that thousands of the bottles and cans had been brought to Maine by the late lobsterman and writer Peter Prybot and his son, Thomas Prybot, 22, of Gloucester. The younger Prybot, a student at the time at the University of Massachusetts, had also been an employee of the Woodards’ center, working part time over the summer.

The elder Prybot, the respected author and regular columnist in the Gloucester Daily Times, had been indicted along with the Woodards in February 2011 for his role in the alleged scheme. But he was found dead after an apparent fall from his lobster boat in the waters just off Rockport on April 3 of that year.

In this week’s appeal, Woodard’s lawyer argued before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday that a jury could not have found Woodard guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, given the evidence that was presented. Arguments by Richard Grundy, Woodard’s lawyer, included there was no direct evidence that the containers were not redeemable in Maine, that certain evidence should have been excluded and that the prosecutor committed misconduct when she told the jury to “send a message” with their verdict.

Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin said Grundy was cherry-picking information to argue his position. She noted that a jury could infer that Woodard knew the bottles weren’t from Maine because of the truckloads brought in from outside the state, as well as the documented cellphone contacts with the supplier and the payments made to him.

She said her “send a message” statement was not inflammatory, as Grundy argued, and noted that the trial lawyers did not object at the time.

Additional material from Times staff reports is included in this story.