PORTLAND, Maine — A memorable Seinfeld episode features Kramer and Newman taking thousands of cans and bottles to Michigan so they can get a nickel more per container than they would in New York, but beverage distributors say there's nothing funny when it happens for real.
In Maine, which has a more expansive bottle-redemption law than neighboring states, three people have been accused of illegally cashing in more than 100,000 out-of-state bottles and cans for deposits, the first time criminal charges have been filed in the state over bottle-refund fraud, a prosecutor said.
Thomas and Megan Woodard, who operate Green Bee Redemption in Kittery, are charged with stealing more than $10,000 by redeeming no-deposit containers from New Hampshire and Massachusetts in Maine. Peter Prybot of Gloucester, Mass., was indicted on charges of stealing more than $1,000 by shuttling out-of-state containers to Maine distributors. They were indicted Thursday.
An estimated 90 million cans and bottles are fraudulently cashed in each year in Maine, costing beverage distributors $8 million to $10 million, said Newell Augur, executive director of the Maine Beverage Association.
People from other states — especially New Hampshire, which has no "bottle law" — routinely redeem loads of cans and bottles in Maine, Augur said. Redemption centers pay customers 5-cent refunds on most beverage containers and 15 cents for wine and liquor bottles. The centers, in turn, get that money back from distributors, plus a 3½- or 4-cent handling fee per container.
Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin said this week's indictments were the first criminal charges she is aware of in a redemption case in Maine.
In the 1996 Seinfeld episode, Kramer and Newman hatch a plan to drive a truckload of cans and bottles to Michigan, because the redemption fee there was 10 cents, double New York's nickel deposit.