Man Who Planted Razor Blades in Pizza Dough Gets 5 Years in Prison

No one was reported injured, but prosecutors say that the recall prompted by Nicholas Mitchell’s tampering resulted in nearly $230,000 in losses to a Maine-based supermarket chain.,

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A New Hampshire man was sentenced on Thursday to nearly five years in prison after admitting that he planted razor blades in pizza dough being sold at a supermarket in Maine, prompting a recall by the chain in five states, according to court records.

The man, Nicholas Mitchell, pleaded guilty in June to tampering with the dough at a Hannaford supermarket in Saco, Maine, on Oct. 5, 2020, federal prosecutors said.

Four months earlier, according to investigators, Mr. Mitchell had been fired from his job at It’ll Be Pizza, a dough manufacturer that supplies Hannaford stores as well as the small pizzeria chain Portland Pie Company.

Security camera videos showed Mr. Mitchell, 39, of Dover, N.H., tampering with dough from Portland Pie Company in a refrigerator case and leaving the supermarket without making a purchase, the authorities said. Saco is about 20 miles southwest of Portland, Maine.

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Nicholas MitchellCredit…Dover Police Department, via Associated Press

No one was reported injured, but prosecutors said that three customers and a store employee discovered razor blades in the dough.

As a result of the tampering, Hannaford removed all Portland Pie fresh dough and cheese products from its stores. It also issued a recall, extending to all 183 Hannaford stores at the time in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York and Massachusetts, according to the chain.

In addition to a 57-month sentence, Mr. Mitchell was ordered on Thursday to pay nearly $230,000 in restitution to the supermarket chain.

Mr. Mitchell gave a tearful apology during his sentencing by videoconference on Thursday in Federal District Court in Portland, The Portland Press Herald reported.

“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,” Mr. Mitchell said, according to the newspaper.

David Beneman, a lawyer for Mr. Mitchell, declined to comment on Thursday.

The court’s chief judge, Jon D. Levy, said that it was a matter of chance that no one was injured by Mr. Mitchell’s actions, The Press Herald reported.

“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,” Judge Levy said, according to the newspaper.

Under the terms of his sentence, Mr. Mitchell will be required to pay Hannaford nearly $191,000 in restitution for pizza dough and nearly $35,000 for pizza made in its stores, as well as $4,000 for labor. From October 2020 to November 2020, dough sales plummeted by 82 percent, while in-store pizza sales fell by 89 percent, according to court records.

Hannaford, which is based in Scarborough, Maine, said in a statement on Thursday that it appreciated the work of law enforcement investigators.

“While we are thankful that no injuries occurred because of Mr. Mitchell’s actions, the sentence appropriately reflects the severity of the crime of introducing a hazard into food,” the chain said. “This judgment should serve as a deterrent to any individual from putting public safety at risk.”

A sales manager at It’ll Be Pizza, which is also based in Scarborough, said on Thursday that he was not authorized to comment.

A person who answered the phone at Portland Pie Company hung up on Thursday when asked whether someone was available to comment.

In a sentencing memo, Mr. Beneman said that Mr. Mitchell had struggled with mental health and substance abuse problems for much of his life. When the coronavirus pandemic began early last year, the lawyer said, Mr. Mitchell went into a downward spiral.

In April 2020, he was arrested on charges of domestic violence and probation violation, and he began living in his car, according to the memo, which said that Mr. Mitchell was fired from It’ll Be Pizza in June 2020 for being late to work and for his absences.

Mr. Mitchell has been in custody since his arrest in October 2020 and recently contracted the coronavirus, Mr. Beneman said in the memo.

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