A New Hampshire man who placed razor blades inside Portland Pie Company pizza dough that was distributed to southern Maine supermarkets last year was sentenced Thursday to four years and nine months in federal prison.
Nicholas R. Mitchell, 39, of Dover, New Hampshire, pleaded guilty in June to two counts of tampering with a consumer product. In addition to prison time, he will also have to pay $230,000 in restitution to Hannaford Supermarkets.
No one was injured, but the lost sales to the Hannaford stores in the six weeks following the discovery of the razor blades totaled nearly $230,000, the amount of restitution Mitchell agreed to pay. The amount in lost sales was based on a comparison with sales in the previous year.
Mitchell’s attorney, Federal Defender David Beneman of Portland, estimated that if Mitchell is able to pay $100 per week in restitution, it will take him 44 years to repay it.
U.S. District Judge Jon Levy also sentenced Mitchell to three years of supervised release.
In imposing the sentence, Levy called Mitchell’s crime “callous and wanton that could have led to life-threatening and disabling injuries” to consumers who purchased the pizza dough.
“A crime of this nature spreads fear in the community,” the judge told Mitchell. “This crime undoubtedly had the effect of putting many people in fear of the food they are buying.”
Mitchell told the judge Thursday that he tested positive for COVID-19 but felt well enough to go ahead with the sentencing. He also said that he had been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Last year, Mitchell worked for It’ll Be Pizza, a Scarborough-based manufacturing company that makes several kinds of pizza dough, including the Portland Pie Co. dough that was sold at Hannaford, where customers first reported finding the tampered dough. He was fired in June 2020 for repeatedly being late for work and was denied unemployment.
As an act of revenge, he went to grocery stores in southern Maine and inserted razor blades into the pizza dough. Consumers began reporting finding them in mid-August 2020. Mitchell was arrested on state charges in October 2020 and indicted by a federal grand jury the following March.
Mitchell apologized for his actions Thursday.
“Nobody deserved this,” he said. “It was completely unacceptable. I understand why I must pay, and very dearly.”
Mitchell’s life and mental health began to unravel when the pandemic hit and the governor shut down many businesses, including the hair salon where his girlfriend had worked, Beneman wrote in his sentencing memorandum. She returned home after drinking with friends one night in April and got into an argument with Mitchell. Her son called the police.
Mitchell was charged with domestic violence assault and ordered to have no contact with his girlfriend or her son, the memorandum said. He wound up living out of his car, and his counseling sessions came to an end.
Being homeless caused him to frequently be late for work, which led to his firing, Beneman said.
Mitchell faced up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Perry recommended a sentence of five years in prison. Beneman recommended Mitchell be imprisoned for 3½ years.