CopyWronged Episode V: Brewer PD Strikes First or (...if you got a warrant, I guess you're gonna come in...)
Early in 2011, Edge Video was visited by two representatives of the Brewer Police Department. They were investigating some...crime (They never did say what the crime was). They wanted to look at our records of items that had been traded in (or sold to us). In case you don’t know, all resale and pawn shops are required to keep records of stuff that they buy from the public and make that information available to law enforcement. We had a book that was basically the trades information printed off the computers as a receipt (it contained all the necessary information about the transactions).
The two officers looked through the book, came to me and said: “What we are looking for is not here.”
I replied, “I’m sorry, what are you looking for?”
One of them said: “What is on the computers?”
I said: “The computers are used mostly for DVD rental accounts and customer information.”
One of them: “We want to look at them”
I said: “I don’t think I can let you without a warrant. Not because we’re hiding anything, but because of the Video Privacy Protection Act .
Them: “Well, we will get a warrant and take all your computers”
I said: “I’m not trying to be a dick here, But I have to protect my customers' privacy and not get sued myself. I’m just saying, I think you have to have a warrant for a specific account, not a ‘blanket warrant.’ We have a lot of information on there. Why can’t we just find out the actual law and go by the book? You guys are law enforcement, isn’t that what you want?
Them: “We’re just going to come back and take all your computers.”
I said: “Ok.”
And they left. The rest of the story, the only perspective I can write about that is I witnessed personally because I was not at the store the day they “came back”. I have omitted some names. I apologize for the switching formats, I wrote this up from notes I had made right after it happened in 2011. At the end I put an update, the impact it had on our businesses and my thoughts on the whole matter.
May 24, 2011 (a Tuesday)
My partner in both business and life, Heidi Pugliese called me around 11am and told me Brewer Police Department was at the Brewer Store with a search warrant.
I said: “OK”
Approx one hour later. There was a knock at the door. I went to answer it, I heard someone say…”HELLO?”
By the time I reached the porch, Captain Moffitt was coming in.
Moffitt: “I’m Captain Moffitt of Brewer PD and I’m looking for stolen movies”
Moffitt: “Who are you?”
I told him my name.
Moffitt: “We were just at your store. Looking for stolen movies. We know they are here. Can we get them?”
ME: “I don’t know anything about stolen movies”
Moffitt: “It was a ‘Sting Operation, OK?” (He seemed very angry.) “Let’s just have them. We know they are here.”
ME: “OK, where’s your warrant?”
Moffitt: “Well, we can get a warrant, But we could also just get the movies and make this easy…”
ME: “OK, I’ll just call my lawyer.”
I start to go get my cell phone.
Moffitt: “No, I can’t let you go back in there…”
Moffitt: “You might destroy evidence or have a weapon. You’re acting kind of sketchy with me right now.”
I didn’t think I was acting “sketchy”, not compared to Captain Moffitt anyway.
ME: “Ok, can we go outside?”
Moffitt: “Yes, we can.”
We went outside, and another officer approached up the driveway.
Moffitt: “We need to secure the house.”
Moffitt: “To make sure it’s safe and that there’s no one else in the house.”
The other officer went into the house. He came back out.
Heidi Pugliese showed up.
ME: “Can she go get my phone?”
Moffitt: “Yes, an officer will go with her.”
She got my phone. I called my Lawyer. I told him what was happening. He told me to ask them if I was under arrest. They said no. I could leave if I wanted to. But there was no way I was going to leave my parrot in there with a bunch of strangers ripping through our house. Not gonna happen.
So I decided to stay while they got the warrant. Moffitt asked me, Heidi and J. (a part-time employee and relative of Heidi's) our names and Dates of Birth.
He left to get the warrant, Detective Munson and other Detectives/Officers I did not know sat at the edge of our driveway.
We found a ride for J. At that point they had looked inside Heidi’s car and saw movies. They said, “That car can’t leave.”
I sent texts to the people in the store. I told them they could leave by asking them if they were arrested.
I convinced Heidi to go get $ out of the ATM in case anyone was arrested.
I stood in the driveway for what was like 2 hours. No way I was leaving my parrot, Paegen.
Moffitt showed up with the warrant for the house and H’s car. He was unable to get one for the Bangor Store.
Moffitt asked if I would like to come in once they cleared a room. I said yes. I would like to go in the room with the bird cage.
Several other plain clothes officers showed up, a couple of uniform officers, all of them went into the house. There were also two people from Walmart Global Investigations at my house and I was told later, they had been at the store. That should have been clue #1 for how the next decade was going to go for me.
Moffitt came back out and said I could sit in a chair in the living room.
P Bird was screeching and screeching. The searchers were searching.
Moffitt (to me): “Do you want to save us some time and tell us where they are?”
Me: “the movies that were traded in today at the Brewer store?”
Moffitt: “Yes, in shrinkwrap”
Moffitt: “I don’t know, let me---”
Me: “They are upstairs in the front bedroom. On the shelf by the door with all the other movies”
He relayed that message to the Searchers and a couple of them ran up the stairs. I started to tell them where the rest of the DVDs that were traded in were, and they told me they would talk to me later. I sat back down.
Our cat was milling around during the whole process and trying to get out each time the Searchers came in and out of the house. I asked the female officer if I could put her in the bathroom and close the door. The officer said yes.
They started stripping out the computers and records they deemed important.
The searchers were here for about 25 min. to an hour. I sat in the chair, telling P. that she was okay. I eventually covered her up to try to calm her down.
As they wrapped it up. Munson (the computer guy) said to me: “I know you talked to a lawyer and do you want to talk to me?”
Me: “No. When will we get our computers for the store back?”
Munson: : “I don’t know. I will have to talk to the prosecutor and see who was going to be prosecuted. And I can’t talk to them until tomorrow.”
As they all left, he asked about the disc drive in the kitchen by the ipod and speakers.
Munson: “What is this?”
Me: “It is for loading music on the ipods.”
They left. I undercovered Paegen
In conclusion, I’d like to say this: While this event wasn’t the final nail in the coffin of Edge Video, it was the first nail of many more to come. Even though we certainly tried, we never did recover from the seizure. It took a year and thousands of dollars in legal fees to get our computers back. Many of them were broken and unusable. We had to move to another physical location because our store and online businesses were damaged. (We lost 2 promising selling sites: moviesfromtheEDGE.com & replacetvdisc.com). I personally started having strokes and would have 20 of them by 2015. Most of all, our spirits were crushed.
...And no charges were ever filed.
At the time our database contained over 30,000 local customer’s personal information, I asked my lawyer, “Didn’t Brewer PD break the law by seizing all of the video rental records?”
He replied: “That wasn’t for me to decide”
I did find out sometime later, that we weren't alone. Bull Moose (another local physical media retailer) had been paid a visit by mutliple law Enforcement Agencies and members of Walmart Global Investigations. As well, as many of the area's pawn and resale shops had received similar visits. Oddly, enough none of them were served search warrants or had computers seized. It would be several years before more peices of this blurry puzzle could be put together.
To be Continued...