Shades of 'Seinfeld': Maine bottle scam alleged

Three people have been accused of bringing beverage containers from states without redemption fees into Maine to collect the refunds.

Associated Press

Three people have been accused of bringing beverage containers from states without redemption fees into Maine to collect the refunds.

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.

Shades of 'Seinfeld': Maine bottle scam alleged 02/11/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 11, 2011 9:50pm]

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