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11/6/2013 2:00:00 PM
No 'Kindergarten Justice' In Newcastle Theft Case, Victim Says
By J.W. Oliver

Prosecutors will dismiss a felony theft charge against a man who admits stealing from a Newcastle business if he completes 150 hours of community service.

George H. Perreault Jr., 34, of Berwick, allegedly stole more than $40,000 from Seacoast Coffee Company, where he was an employee and minority shareholder from 2005 to 2011. He remains a minority shareholder in the company.

Perreault pleaded guilty to Class B theft by unauthorized taking Nov. 1 in Lincoln County Superior Court as part of a plea bargain with prosecutors. Perreault and his attorney, Matthew Nichols, acknowledged a trial would likely result in a guilty verdict.

Perreault has a year to complete the community service. He must also make a "good-faith" effort to resolve a related lawsuit within six months, a condition District Attorney Geoff Rushlau acknowledged will be difficult to enforce.

Rushlau agreed to the plea bargain despite the protests of the other shareholders in the company, calling the no-jail, no-restitution deal "an appropriate resolution" to the case.

James and Cathryn Peterman of Newcastle and their son, Kyle Peterman, together own the majority of the shares in Seacoast Coffee Company.

Rushlau outlined the case at the Nov. 1 hearing.

Perreault, in his capacity as a salesman for the company, would pocket the proceeds of cash transactions with certain customers and omit the transactions from his sales reports, Rushlau said.

The Petermans eventually became suspicious of Perreault and, after conversations with several customers who confirmed the unreported cash transactions, reported the activity to the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office in early 2011.

Detective Terry Michaud investigated and confirmed that Perreault stole "about $43,000" from the company, Rushlau said.

Cathryn Peterman further detailed the allegations against Perreault and the effect of his actions on the company and the Petermans in a statement to the court. She also argued against the plea bargain.

"I think this case has been allowed to continue on and on and on without resolution, and now, because of (Assistant District Attorney Andrew) Wright's situation, it's being used to quickly come to a settlement, and I don't think this settlement is just in any way, shape or form," she said.

Rushlau had cited a long, illness-related absence for Wright, the primary prosecutor in the case, as a factor contributing to his willingness to negotiate the plea bargain.

Cathryn Peterman, holding a large tote bag full of accounting records, said she "can prove every bit" of the theft.

"We treated George as part of the family through a lot of years of Seacoast Coffee, and then we found out everything he had done to betray us," she said.

"George took this money in order to further a lifestyle he wanted to live," she said. He owned an expensive, exotic bird and rented a slip at a swanky Kennebunkport marina for his sport-fishing boat.

The Petermans, as majority owners of the company, paid Perreault before they could pay themselves and paid 100 percent of his health insurance, Cathryn Peterman said.

The Petermans did so because Perreault was single and the Petermans had income and health insurance from Cathryn Peterman's full-time job at a Damariscotta bank, she said. The company even set up an office in Perreault's home and paid him rent for the space.

"All this time, George was stealing from the company, because he started one month after we started the company," she said.

The company did not closely monitor its inventory in the beginning, partly because the Petermans trusted Perreault, Cathryn Peterman said.

Even after the Petermans began to notice inventory losses, they looked for other causes. "We would suggest to (Perreault), are you locking your truck at night? Are you leaving your truck unlocked when you're doing deliveries?" she said.

"Everything in here is evidence of the $43,239 George took," Cathryn Peterman said, lifting the tote bag. The $43,239 figure represents "just the low-hanging fruit" the company can prove with receipts, she said.

She and her husband know of other, similar situations with cash customers and improper use of a company credit card to buy groceries, household items and magazines, she said.

Cathryn Peterman urged Justice Jeffrey Hjelm to direct Rushlau to push for a more strict punishment.

"I just look at this as kindergarten justice," she said. "You take something that doesn't belong to you, you give it back."

"To have George do anything in 'good faith' doesn't sit well with me, because there is no good faith left between George, my husband, my sons and I," Cathryn Peterman said.

If the state dismisses the charge, Perreault will not have to disclose the theft to prospective employers, she said. "Would you want to hire him?" she said. "I wouldn't."

Hjelm said it would be unconstitutional for him to tell the prosecutor how to handle the case. A prosecutor can dismiss a case entirely without any input from a judge, he said.

Hjelm also said the type of allegations involved are "notoriously difficult for the prosecution to pursue successfully."

He accepted the plea and agreed to delay sentencing for a year, per the terms of the plea bargain. If Perreault fails to complete the community service and attempt to resolve the lawsuit, he could face up to 10 years in prison, the maximum penalty for a Class B crime.

The civil case, meanwhile, has been on hold pending the outcome of the criminal case.

Seacoast Coffee Company filed the lawsuit against Perreault in December 2012.

The complaint by the company asks the court to enter judgment against Perreault for fraud, embezzlement, conversion and unjust enrichment and to award the company "compensatory damages, interest, costs and ... such other amounts as this court deems just and reasonable."

Perreault denies the allegations and asks the court to dismiss the lawsuit and award him "costs and such further relief it deems just" in his answer.

The parties have discussed a settlement that would require Perreault to give up his shares in the company, Nichols said.

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