AUGUSTA — A homeless man is charged with robbing a CVS Pharmacy on Capitol Street last month, the latest arrest in a string of city pharmacy robberies and a record-breaking number of drugstore hold-ups statewide.
Daniel Lee Nelson, 31, was arrested in Gardiner earlier this week on a probation violation and charged with robbery Thursday in connection with the Nov. 17 robbery.
It does not appear Nelson, whom Augusta police said refused to cooperate with the investigation, is responsible for a separate robbery at the Capitol Street CVS on Nov. 28.
There have been nine pharmacy robberies in Augusta so far this year — three last month alone — a total that’s more than in any other municipality in the state, according to Augusta Police Chief Robert Gregoire. Bangor is the next closest with six total, he said.
“This is again a problem that is only getting worse,” said Deputy Chief Jared Mills of Augusta police. “For our city to have three different pharmacy robberies by three different people in a two-week span should speak volumes. The upside to this is the great work that our employees do during and after these incidents. We have now solved seven out of the nine and are still following up leads on the others. These crimes are directly related to addiction where the suspects are more often than not using what they are stealing.”
There have been 54 pharmacy robberies this year — an average of more than one a week — according to Maine State Police. A Walgreen’s robbery in Bangor on Tuesday was the latest. An arrest was made 22 minutes later.
At least 41 of the statewide robberies have resulted in arrests, according to the Maine Drug Enforcement agency.
On Nov. 17 in Augusta, a robber threatened an employee at the pharmacy counter at the Capitol Street CVS and was given oxycodone pills, according to Augusta Police Lt. Christopher Massey. No weapon was displayed and no one was injured, police said. The robber, who wore a dark hooded sweatshirt, dark pants and dark face paint, fled on foot.
Mills said witness statements and physical evidence led police to Nelson, who has an extensive criminal record, according to Kennebec Journal archives.
Police have also identified a driver they believe may have given Nelson a ride following the robbery, Mills said, and police are still attempting to determine the driver’s level of involvement.
Mills said Nelson was given bottles of oxycodone pills, but a police affidavit filed in court does not specify an exact amount. He said none of the pills were recovered and police suspect Nelson may have used some and sold others.
Police said Nelson has been moving from place to place, staying with friends in the area.
Nelson made his initial court appearance on the robbery charge Friday before Judge Beth Dobson. Bail was set at $10,000 cash and release conditions say he can’t possess drugs, alcohol or weapons and can’t go to the CVS.
He was represented by attorney Stephen Bourget. His next court date is scheduled for Jan. 15 in Kennebec County Superior Court.
Augusta detectives were assisted by Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office and Gardiner police in the investigation.
Gregoire told city councilors Thursday that Kennebec County has had more pharmacy robberies than any other county in Maine. He said such crimes have a high arrest rate, at nearly 75 percent.
“So three out of every four of these robberies resulted in charges and an arrest, but they continue to happen,” Gregoire said. “I can’t say why Augusta. It just happens to be the trend here. People are taking desperate measures.”
Gregoire speculated that successful prescription drug take-back days have reduced the availability of drugs on the street. He said the last drug take-back day brought in almost 14,000 pounds of drugs in Maine. Another such day is planned in April.
“The fact they show such desperation shows how strong the addiction, or the lure, of the prescription drug is,” Mayor William Stokes, who is also chief of the criminal division of the Office of the Maine Attorney General, said in a discussion with city councilors about pharmacy robberies Thursday night. “It’s so strong they’re willing to take the risk of going, in broad daylight, to a facility that typically has video cameras.”
Keith Edwards — 621-5647