Victims of theft wait for guns to be returned

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LEWISTON — Just under two years ago, 14 guns were stolen during an overnight break-in at Pine Tree Trading. In time, police and federal agents rounded up the suspects. The guns were recovered and the thieves went to court.

They were convicted. End of story.

Only, not so much for the owners of Pine Tree. During the trial this week, Marcel Morin stood in U.S. District Court in Portland looking over the 14 guns that had been taken from him. They were spread out neatly on a table.

Yes, Marcel told the court. Those were his guns.

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He was thanked and sent on his way. He had to leave the guns behind.

“Now that,” he said, “is frustrating.”

It has been 22 months since the burglary at the Lisbon Street pawn shop and still, the guns are being held as evidence by the federal court.

Marcel and his son Mike thought they might get their property back once 20-year-old Troy Bradley, the second of the suspects, was found guilty. That happened earlier this week.

“They want to keep the guns until sentencing. And then, they’ll hang on to them until his appeals are all used up,” Mike Morin said. “I think it’s ridiculous, myself. We’ve been victimized once and now we’re being victimized again by the court system.”

The Morins have been through it before on the local level. Five years ago, a pair of suspects were caught stealing guns from their store. That time, the suspects were prosecuted on the state level, rather than federal.

“We had those guns back within a week, even though the case wasn’t prosecuted for a year or so,” Mike said.

In state court, prosecutors are generally happy to take photographs of weapons if they are needed as evidence. They make records of serial numbers and other information and give the guns back to the owner.

In federal court, the cylinders of justice spin more slowly.

The Morins were told it might be early summer before Bradley is sentenced. For weeks or months following, his lawyer can file an appeal. All told, it might be another six months before the guns are returned, meaning it will have been more than two years since they were taken.

For the Morins, the inconvenience is both business and personal. Business because they could have sold those guns, bought more and continued to sell. That’s a lot of money that could be coming in but isn’t.

“I’m probably out 75 or 80 grand,” Marcel said.

It’s personal because one of the stolen guns was not for sale. A custom-made .45 taken in the heist was Marcel’s personal weapon. In court, he was asked why his personal gun had been left at the store.

“I told them that’s where I thought it would be most secure,” he said.

Right now, Mike says, gun sales are heavy. It would be no problem to sell those 14 handguns if they had them. He wonders if that will still be the case by the time they get the guns back. It’s hard to tell what the economy will do over time.

“This,” Mike said, “is not a good time to be messing with somebody’s livelihood.”

Bradley, of Lewiston, faces up to 10 years in federal prison for his part in the burglary. Investigators said he provided the tools for the break-in and drove the getaway car.

Michael Hatch, the 23-year-old Lewiston man convicted of physically breaking into the pawn shop, was sentenced to three months in federal prison. He has since been released.

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