Record-setting year for pharmacy robberies in Maine



By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

The October robberies that occurred 10 days apart at the Naples and Fryeburg Rite Aid stores are numbers 46 and 47 in what has become a record-setting year for pharmacy robberies in Maine.

Since then, another pharmacy has been robbed, according to the Maine State Police. That makes 48 pharmacies robbed in 2012, compared to 28 the year before, and 24 in 2010.

In 2008, there were only two pharmacy robberies in Maine, said Steve McCausland, spokesperson for the Maine State Police. “We’re averaging about one a week,” he said.

Nationally, Maine is one of the top three states in the country in terms of the increase in pharmacy robberies over the past year, according to Maine Rep. Meredith Strang Burgess, who sees the statistic as strong evidence of the “horrific problem of prescription drug abuse and addiction” of which rural areas are particularly vulnerable because of high poverty rates and the resultant sense of hopelessness, powerlessness and desperation.

Fryeburg Police Chief Philip Weymouth said that among those addicted to opiates, the potential payoff of robbing a pharmacy is so great, both in terms of feeding their habit and of the money they can make selling them on the street, “the payoff is so great, the penalty is worth the risk.” When the Rite Aid opened in Fryeburg several years back, he said, “We knew it was just a matter of time” before it was robbed. “If you’re addicted, you’re desperate,” he said.

In the robbery that took place at the Fryeburg Rite Aid on Route 302 on Oct. 5, police allege that Michael E. Freeman, 25, of Chelsea entered the store just before 10 p.m. on a rainy Friday night during Fryeburg Fair week, handing the pharmacist a note that read: “Oxycodone 30’s in a bag and no one will get hurt, now.”

Weymouth believes Freeman was hoping to take advantage of the fact that police officers were busy with traffic control and other fair-related duties. But the plan backfired.

“We had him within minutes,” Weymouth said. Almost the same second that Fryeburg Police Officers working traffic control at Academy Corner heard the radio alert to be on the lookout for a red pickup truck, they saw one approach in the lane bound for the fairgrounds. “If he had turned the other way and headed for Bridgton, we probably would have lost him,” Weymouth said.

Freeman was working at the fair and had borrowed his employer’s red pickup truck, Weymouth said. Once police received permission from the employer to search the truck, they found 270 30-milligram Oxycodone pills inside a Rite Aid bag. At around $30 each, the pills had a street value of over $8,000.

“What if he had made it to the fairgrounds?” asked Weymouth. “You may have never seen him again” in the crowd, which was particularly large because of the Leann Rimes concert.

Bridgton Police Chief Kevin Schofield became involved in the Naples Rite Aid pharmacy robbery that occurred 10 days later, on Oct. 15, in assisting the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department with arresting a Wayside Drive, Bridgton, resident, Anthony G. Mattia, 26, for the crime. Mattia allegedly entered the Naples Rite Aid on Route 302 around 7:20 p.m. and handed a note to the pharmacist on duty. There was no weapon displayed, and Mattia’s arrest came after police tied him to clothing worn during the robbery as well as items stolen from the pharmacy.

Schofield said Mattia was allegedly also involved with others in committing a string of three residential burglaries within a three-day period on the Kansas Road, as well as thefts from motor vehicles in August and September on Oak Street and the upper Kansas Road. Arrested along with Mattia in connection with the Kansas Road burglaries were Morgan E. Miller, 22, of Kansas Road in Bridgton and Joseph M. Harmon, 23, of Kansas Road.

Schofield said that of the over 50 armed robberies that have occurred in Maine in 2012, it is estimated that between 60 and 70% of them involved prescription drug abuse. Bridgton Police recovered both guns and two types of prescription drugs stolen in the daytime burglary of the Kansas Road home. Recovered were a 12-gauge shotgun, a high-powered rifle and a .45 handgun, as well as ammunition, a laptop computer, a purse and credit cards. No one was home at the time.

Schofield said there could be more arrests and more charges made in the string of burglaries, which he could not say were connected. The case is still under investigation.

“At $1 a milligram, for someone who has a 120-milligram-a-day habit, and you times that by seven days a week, that’s a good chunk of change,” Schofield said.

“The concern is, anytime you’re seeing a spike in burglaries, oftentimes, it’s because of substance abuse,” Schofield said. The problem is especially concerning when the theft of a weapon is involved. He noted that within 24 to 48 hours of being bailed out of jail on his arrest in connection with the Bridgton burglaries — in which weapons were stolen — Mattia was arrested for allegedly robbing a pharmacy. No weapon was used in the Naples Rite Aid pharmacy, but had Bridgton police not recovered the weapons taken in the burglaries, the situation could have been different, he said.

“Opiate addiction is a very, very powerful addiction, and from what I’ve seen in my 27 years on the job is, it fuels property crimes,” Schofield said.

The Naples Rite Aid pharmacy was also robbed of prescription opiates in May of 2010. In that case, the person charged with the crime, Jessie Arthur Lavalle, 21, of Windham, was alleged to have threatened pharmacy employees, saying he would “blow heads off” if they refused to comply, according to newspaper reports at the time. Lavalle was out on bail for allegedly robbing a CVS Pharmacy in Biddeford when he was arrested for the Naples Rite Aid robbery.


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