Stolen greenery was sold in county courthouse
New Hampshire Union Leader Staff
Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009
MANCHESTER – A Hillsborough County bailiff unwittingly fenced stolen goods last week when he sold Christmas wreaths for $10 apiece in the lobby of the Superior Courthouse.
Sheriff James Hardy confirmed yesterday his office and Mark Putney, investigator with the County Attorney's Office, are looking into the incident.
Hardy said a woman in her 70s came to the courthouse last week with the wreaths and asked a bailiff she knew if they could be sold in the courthouse. She said she made the wreaths at home, according to Hardy.
The wreaths -- still bearing price tags from Jacques Flower Shop of Goffstown -- were sold out of the lobby for $10 each and were purchased by workers in the courthouse. Seven courthouse employees bought the wreaths.
Jacques Flower Shop Manager Paul Godbout said the investigation was triggered after a sheriff's department employee noticed his store's price tags on the wreaths and brought it to Putney's attention.
Hardy said the incident is still being investigated but it appears the bailiff was trying to help the elderly woman, who Hardy said has a mental competency issue. Selling items in the courthouse is inappropriate, he said.
Paul Godbout, manager of Jacques Flower Shop in Pinardville, shows off some the approximately 36 wreaths stolen from his outdoor display. (BOB LAPREE)
"Clearly, it was poor judgment on the part of the court officer," said Hardy, who refused to identify the bailiff, saying it was a personnel matter.
The wreaths have since been returned, Hardy said. No judge was among the purchasers, according to the sheriff.
Goffstown Police Chief Patrick Sullivan said his department is investigating, but as of yesterday morning, no one has been arrested.
Godbout said more than $1,500 worth of Van Otis chocolates has disappeared from the shop's front counter over the past six months, as well as individual candy bars his daughter was selling for a school fundraiser.
Putney, he said, told him the woman also gave candy to employees in the sheriff's department.
On Tuesday, Chief Deputy Art Durette sent out a memo to the staff, a copy of which was obtained by the New Hampshire Union Leader, telling them they are not to accept any gift or gratuity, either directly or indirectly.
"Being the holiday season, it is common for people to be in a giving spirit. However, being public employees, we are held to a very high standard. That being said, everyone must comply with our rules and regulations including RR2 VII..." he wrote.
The rule bars the acceptance of any gift, gratuity or reward.
On Monday, Godbout said a manager of a Dunkin' Donuts told him the woman suspected of taking the wreaths was at a Dunkin' Donuts wearing a Santa hat and handing out Van Otis candy.
Godbout said the balsam wreaths were stolen from outside displays at his South Mast Road shop and priced from $29.95 to $39.95 each.
In addition to the price tags, the bows, ornaments, pine cones and signs attached to the wreaths bore Jacques Flower Shop labels, he said.
The bailiff, he said, should have known the items were stolen since they were clearly marked. When they were returned to him, Godbout said they still had the price tags on them.
One of the returned wreaths had a wooden sign that said, "I've been good this year, Santa."
Godbout said the woman suspected of the thefts was a regular customer until he caught her allegedly shoplifting a vase.
When he confronted her, she told him she never stole anything in her life and that she was going to pay for the vase, which he said was in her oversized bag.
She told him she went to Mass every day and her sister was a nun.
"Maybe your sister can pray for you," Godbout said he told her.
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