Maine and federal law enforcement officials were either unable or were unwilling to reveal the identities and current whereabouts this week of seven men arrested at a Rockland Home Depot on Saturday, Feb. 18.
“The Asset Protect Office of Home Depot was watching [the seven men] via remote camera and management from Home Depot wanted the people trespassed from the store,” a the Rockland Police Department said in a Feb. 18 press release.
“Rockland Police have received information in the past regarding a particular group or groups of individuals, often using white vans, that have allegedly stolen tens of thousands of dollars, or more, of materials and equipment throughout the state, particularly from Home Depot,” the release said.
Two Rockland PD officers arrived and detained the seven men, but when it was discovered that they spoke poor English and had no U.S. identification, they called in an unnamed U.S. Border Patrol agent.
“Based on the limited information the Rockland Police Officers had on scene and complexity of the investigation, all the persons involved were trespassed with the criminal investigation ongoing,” the release stated. “Rockland Police and members of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office assisted Border Patrol in detaining and transporting all the individuals to the Knox County Sheriff’s Office for further investigation.”
From there, the seven unknown men were handed off to U.S. Border Patrol and transported to an unknown location.
The Maine Wire contacted the Rockland Police Department, the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) multiple times by email and phone to learn more about the case, the individuals involved, and their current whereabouts.
But none of the law enforcement agencies would — or could — provide more than basic information about what happened to the seven men, who they are, or where they are being kept.
None of the men have been charged with a crime in Maine, but they have been held in law enforcement custody since Saturday.
On Tuesday, Ryan Brissette, public affairs officer with the Department of Homeland Security office in Boston, responded to an inquiry seeking information about the arrestees.
“At this time, all inquiries should be forwarded to Rockland PD,” Brissette said.
However, the Rockland Police Department said it did not book or process the individuals but only transported them to a Knox County facility.
Rockland Police Chief Timothy Carroll said the department had no records whatsoever regarding the identities of the individuals it delivered to federal custody.
The Rockland PD press release said “criminal charges are pending” against the seven individuals. Asked how charges could be pending without any public records related to the subjects, Carroll said the release was incorrect and should have simply said the investigation is ongoing.
A Knox County Sheriff’s Deputy said the Sheriff’s office did not book or process the individuals but just held them for U.S. Border Patrol officials to pick up. Like Rockland PD, the Knox Sheriff’s Department said it had no records other than the initial complaint from Home Depot concerning the subjects.
Neither Maine agency could provide any information or public records about the individuals they transferred into federal custody.
The spokespersons for the Maine State Police and the Maine Attorney General’s office only learned about the Rockland operation involving seven alleged foreign nationals when the Maine Wire inquired about the case.
Typically, when individuals are arrested in Maine records concerning their arrest, such as biographical information, mug shots, and related police reports, are available to the media and public within 24-48 hours. However, in this case, local and county law enforcement officials don’t have any public records concerning the subjects as they were never booked.
Under federal immigration law, if federal agents detain a foreign national present in the U.S. illegally within 100 miles of the border and determine that the individual has been present in the U.S. less than two years, that individual can be removed from the U.S. without a hearing.
U.S. Border Patrol officials, including from New England and from a Department of Homeland Security Office in Chicago, declined to share any further information with The Maine Wire about the seven individuals in question, despite several requests for public records.
“We have nothing further at this time,” wrote Steven Bansbach, a public affairs official with the U.S. CBP’s Chicago Field Office.
A DHS official eventually instructed the Maine Wire to file a federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with CBP in order to obtain public records related to the case. The Maine Wire filed that request, but CBP determined that the request should have been sent to ICE.
The Maine Wire filed a similar request with ICE seeking information about the identities of the seven men; however, ICE responded Friday that it would not process the request because the Maine Wire did not have the permission of the seven unknown men, whose permission cannot be sought because the federal government won’t — or can’t — say who they are.
At present, next to nothing is known about the individuals or the operation that led to their arrest, apart from a narrative published to Facebook by the Rockland Police Department.
The individuals have not been charged with a crime by either the Rockland Police Department of the Knox County Sheriff’s office. A Rockland PD spokesperson confirmed that the individuals were not read their Miranda Rights.
It is currently unknown whether the individuals have been charged with a federal crime, whether they were or are present in the country illegally, what language they spoke, what their names were, what their country of origin(s) is/are, what agency is holding them now, and where they are being held.
Here’s what we do know from the Rockland PD’s Facebook post:
The individuals were operating two large white vans and were suspected of having participated in prior thefts. A Knox County source said residents in the area had previously been warned to be on the lookout for a van matching that description that had been associated with the theft of tools and other property from private residences.
Home Depot’s asset protection unit called Knox County dispatch Saturday morning and two Rockland police officers, Sergeant Andrew Redden and Officer Logan Finnegan, located the seven individuals. (Chief Carroll declined to make Redden and Finnegan available for interviews this week.)
Carroll, the Rockland Police Chief, said the white van that was present when his officers arrived at Home Depot is not in Rockland PD custody.
“I believe it was released to another person,” he said.
The locations of the second white van and its operators are unknown.
There is no information available concerning the whereabouts of the seven individuals after USCBP picked them up later on Saturday, Feb. 18, and the Rockland PD has not published an update; however the Knox County Sheriff’s Deputy indicated that the men were taken to Calais, where CBP operates three border crossing stations.
Law enforcement sources who spoke with the Maine Wire on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with the press said that US Border Patrol has, in recent months, begun operating further from the Canadian border and deeper into the interior of Maine.
One source said US Border Patrol’s area of operations has grown to assist local law enforcement in response to an increasing number of crimes suspected to have involved foreign nationals present in the U.S. illegally.
This story will be updated if U.S. Border Patrol responds to outstanding inquiries.
Here’s the original release from Rockland PD:
UPDATE: On Friday, Feb. 24, after this story was published, a CBP spokesperson forwarded a statement. The identities of the seven men remain unknown. The circumstances and identity of the seventh man also remain unknown. The Maine Wire will continue to investigate. Here is the statement:
On Saturday, February 15, (sic) 2023, agents from the US Border Patrol’s Houlton Sector responded to a request for assistance call from the Rockland Police Department as they investigated an incident at the Home Depot in Rockland, Maine. While assisting with the criminal investigation, the responding agent determined that six of the subjects being questioned by the Rockland Police Department were foreign nationals that did not have valid immigration status or documentation to be in the United States.
It was determined that five of the subjects had entered the United States illegally, and were therefore in violation of 8 USC 1325, Improper Entry. First time offenders of 8 USC 1325 may be fined and face misdemeanor charges. Subsequent violations may also face additional fines as well as felony charges.
The sixth subject was found to have reentered the United States illegally after having previously been removed, and was therefore in violation of 8 USC 1326, Reentry after Removal. Violating 8 USC 1326 is a felony offense.
The Border Patrol evaluates each offender regarding their immigration status, and other aggravating circumstances such as recidivism and criminal history to determine the legal pathway each subject will be processed under. Those pathways may include administrative actions such as issuance of fines, asset forfeiture and removal from the U.S. Criminal violations may also result in criminal prosecution.
In this case, all subjects have been processed for administrative removal from the United States. In addition to being processed for removal, some have been fined $5,000 each for entering the United States illegally.
Any questions regarding the initial criminal investigation should be directed to the Rockland Police Department.