Long sentence, large debt for man who put razor blades in Hannaford pizza dough

Asia's Tech News Daily

Dec. 2—A New Hampshire man who pleaded guilty to inserting razor blades into raw balls of pizza dough at the Saco Hannaford last year will spend 4 years and 9 months in prison and must pay the supermarket chain nearly $230,000 in restitution.

Nicholas Mitchell, 39, apologized to his family, the community and Hannaford customers during a tearful sentencing hearing Thursday in U.S. District Court in Portland. He pleaded guilty in June to the federal felony of tampering with a consumer product.

Mitchell said he acted in revenge against his former employer, It'll Be Pizza, the company that makes the dough, after he was fired from his job at its warehouse.

Chief Judge Jon D. Levy said the lengthy prison term is a warning to the public and to Mitchell.

“This sentence has to send a firm message that anyone who is going to engage in conduct like this will spend a significant time in federal prison, and to send a message of deterrence to Mr. Mitchell that society will not tolerate him blowing up like this,” Levy said during the Zoom hearing.

That no one was physically injured by Mitchell's actions was a matter of chance, Levy said.

Before he was sentenced, Mitchell took responsibility for his actions, and said his target was not the general public.

“I think it's very important to clarify here that my intentions were never to harm anybody, only to disrupt my former employer's bottom line,” Mitchell said.

After his incarceration, Mitchell will serve 3 years of supervised release. He has been ordered to pay $229,611.92 to Hannaford for losses incurred when it had to recall the pizza dough in multiple states. It'll Be Pizza, which makes dough for brands including the Portland Pie Co., did not submit a request for restitution.

That means the actual financial impact of Mitchell's crime is far higher than what he is being ordered to pay, said Assistant United States Attorney Dan Perry.

He likely will spend the rest of his life paying down that debt, said his attorney, federal public defender David Beneman.

“As he tries to pay the rent, as he tries to reintegrate into society, as he tries to have transportation to get to work, every single paycheck an amount is going to be taken out,” Beneman said. “So this is something that will never end, even after incarceration.”

Mitchell was arrested in October after police in Saco, Sanford and Dover, New Hampshire began investigating reports that customers had found razor blades and metal fragments in Portland Pie Co. pizza dough purchased at Hannaford supermarkets.

Before his arrest on the product tampering charges, Mitchell's life had fallen apart after he was charged with domestic violence assault following an argument with his girlfriend, forcing him to stay away from the apartment they shared. He was living out of a motel and then his car, and he soon was fired from his job for repeated tardiness.

Mitchell was initially charged in state court with reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon and violating the conditions of his release, but the state case will be dismissed now that he has pleaded guilty to the same conduct in federal court.

A federal grand jury indicted him on two counts of product tampering, but one was dismissed as part of the deal that secured his guilty plea.

Hannaford stores in multiple states pulled the dough from shelves while authorities worked to track down the source of the tampering. The case revealed shortcomings in Hannaford's system for reporting dangerous or defective products, which the company previously acknowledged.

Customers at the Sanford Hannaford store reported finding razor blades and razor blade fragments in pizza dough two months before the Saco incident triggered the police investigation and recall. But that information never made it up the corporate chain. At the time, Hannaford told police that a store employee who received the tainted doughs believed the problem was a product issue and not a public safety concern.

Police affidavits filed in court described how detectives linked Mitchell to the Saco Hannaford and the alleged tampering through store surveillance video, which showed him entering the store, handling the dough and leaving without buying anything. They identified him by tracing his vehicle.

This story will be updated.

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