A former employee of Damariscotta Hardware and Randolph Hardware has admitted to stealing thousands of dollars in merchandise from the stores over nearly six years.
Albert W. Lawrence, 32, of Randolph, stockpiled high-end power tools and many other items in a garage at his home, police said at the time of his arrest.
On Aug. 22, 2016, seven officers from the Damariscotta Police Department and Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant at the home.
The officers worked for more than four hours to inventory the merchandise, which filled two pickup trucks and a trailer, according to police.
Lawrence pleaded guilty to a single count of class C theft by unauthorized taking, a felony, Feb. 20, according to court documents. The Lincoln County District Attorney’s Office dismissed a count of class B theft by unauthorized taking in exchange for his plea.
The plea was part of an agreement known as a deferred disposition, which delays sentencing and requires a defendant to meet certain conditions.
The agreement in the Lawrence case delays sentencing for two years. During those two years, Lawrence must pay $20,000 in restitution for the benefit of either the hardware stores or their insurance company, regardless of documentation of their losses. Once the insurance company provides documentation of its reimbursement to the stores, the total amount of restitution could be up to $48,358.
Lawrence must complete 300 hours of community service at a nonprofit and complete a mental-health evaluation and counseling, according to the agreement.
If Lawrence abides by the terms of the agreement, the court will dismiss the felony. He will instead plead guilty to two counts of class D theft, a misdemeanor, and receive a sentence of 364 days in jail with all but 30 days suspended, plus one year of probation.
If he violates the agreement, he faces up to the maximum sentence for a class C crime, which is five years in prison.
Lawrence will return to court for a hearing to determine the final outcome of the case at 1 p.m., Feb. 24, 2020.
Lawrence is free on “personal recognizance” bail in the meantime, which means his promise to appear. His bail conditions ban him from the stores and prohibit contact with the store’s owners, among others.
Lawrence worked for Damariscotta Hardware and Randolph Hardware from 2010-2016, according to Damariscotta police.
Lawrence’s intelligence and work ethic earned him Damariscotta Hardware’s first promotion of a non-family member to management, according to statements by company President Rob Gardiner and his wife, Roxann Gardiner. Rob Gardiner groomed Lawrence as a potential buyer of the company if the family decided to sell.
Lawrence helped the company open its second location, Randolph Hardware, according to the statements. The company promoted him to territory manager, a role with oversight of both stores, in early 2015.
“Albert was a high-level, trusted employee; he had the power to hire and fire, make purchasing decisions, and whatever I could do he could do,” Rob Gardiner said in his statement. “He was more than trusted: he was my go-to, he was my right hand, he had the keys, he had the codes, he had it all.”
The company president described Lawrence’s behavior as “cold and calculated.”
“As near as I can determine, his actions began within a year of his hire and continued up until a week before his dismissal,” Rob Gardiner said in his statement. “They did not occur all on one day, but over hundreds of days over five to six years.”
Lawrence meticulously planned the thefts and manipulated the store’s inventory-tracking system to hide them, according to Rob Gardiner.
Rob Gardiner opposed the plea deal, he said.
Police were unsure of a motive at the time of Lawrence’s arrest. Court documents do not reveal a motive, and neither the district attorney’s office nor Lawrence’s attorney, Richard W. Elliott II, responded to requests for comment.
Rob Gardiner, in a phone interview, expressed disappointment in the outcome as well as relief to see an end to the case.
“We’re glad that it’s now over and done with,” he said.
He hopes the case will encourage other businesses to confront theft and report it to police immediately, rather than simply dismiss the employee and leave a future employer to deal with the problem.