A former employee of Tasman Leather Group of Hartland and another man from New Jersey face felony burglary and theft charges for alleged break-ins at the tannery and the theft of an estimated $350,000 worth of metal press plates used in forming leather pieces for use by the U.S. military.

James T. Chasse, 31, of Lebanon, Maine, and Jose Cruz, 27, of New Jersey, are charged with four counts each of burglary, Class C felonies, and theft, Class B felonies, for allegedly breaking into the former Hartland Tannery Co. three times and leaving with the press plates valued at $5,000 apiece.

The break-ins are alleged to have occurred May 28, May 30 and June 2 at the tannery’s Annex Building, according to a court affidavit filed by Deputy Wilford Dodge, of the Somerset County Sheriff’s Department. Both men had been living in Hartland.

Chasse and Cruz reportedly were spotted by a current employee at the annex with the metal press plates stacked and ready to be hauled away. Another Tasman employee located 35 of the press plates at Newport Metal, a scrap metal recycling company in Newport. The recovered plates are valued at $175,000, according to court documents.

Another 35 press plates, also valued at $175,000, are still missing.

Chasse and Cruz were arrested Tuesday and made their initial court appearance Wednesday. They were not asked to enter a plea and will be assigned a public defender.

James Ross, chief deputy at the sheriff’s department, said the Criminal Investigation Division executed a search warrant obtained by Lt. Carl Gottardi at Chasse’s home on Moore Street in Hartland on Tuesday. Each plate weighs about 500 pounds, Ross said in a news release.

Employees of Tasman Leather Group were able to identify the metal plates positively as being the ones stolen from the tannery, Ross said.

The men have a hearing scheduled for July 22 in court. A trial has been scheduled for the week of Aug. 3.

Chasse is held at the county jail in lieu of $500 cash bail. Cruz’s bail was set at $5,000 unsecured bond, meaning he can leave the jail in an agreement with the county’s community corrections program. Both men remained at the jail Thursday afternoon.

Tasman Leather Group, LLC., a subsidiary of Tasman Industries Inc., was established in Hartland in 2011. Tasman Leather Group specializes in producing premium-quality side leather products for military boots and footwear.

The town of Hartland in October was awarded $1.2 million in loans and $3.6 million in grant money by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for upgrades to the Hartland Pollution Control Facility, which treats wastewater from Tasman Leather Group as well as municipal waste.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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