TRENTON — The Maine Lobster Union, Lobster 207, has fired longtime lobster dealer Warren Pettegrow as chief executive officer of its wholesale lobster co-op.
The firing was announced in an April 13 letter from the union’s executive board addressed to union members. The board also called a May 5 membership meeting at the Elks Lodge in Ellsworth “to discuss the matter in greater detail.”
According to the letter, Pettegrow’s employment as chief executive officer was “terminated” after “an internal investigation prompted by red flags reported by the company’s auditing team.”
Reached for comment, Pettegrow emailed the following statement:
“Lobster 207 circulated an announcement on April 13 that contains numerous false and defamatory statements about me and my conduct and loyalty to the lobstermen that I have worked with for many years.
“Two weeks ago, without warning, I was wrongfully terminated from my job with Union-run Lobster 207. I strongly deny the false allegations of cause for my termination or other wrongdoing. I have retained legal counsel to advise me and we are considering various options to remedy this situation.
“I have spent my entire life working shoulder-to-shoulder with the lobstermen and women of the Downeast and MDI lobster industry. These people know me and I know them. I have been known for my integrity honesty, loyalty, hard work and commitment to these good people, whether they belong to the Union or not.
“I look forward to restoring my good name,” his response concluded.
The Lobster 207 letter states that the Kansas-based Bank of Labor, which loaned the union more than $1 million to purchase the former Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound wholesale facility in Lamoine from the Pettegrow family in 2017, was calling for “a full forensic audit” in the immediate future.
The purpose of the audit is “to determine the status of pending 2018 year-end dividends,” according to the letter to union members. The audit also will explore “the depth of any possible unknown conflicts of interest.”
Generally, a forensic audit is an examination of financial records for potential use as evidence in court.
The April 13 letter was signed by the Lobster 207 Executive Board and listed the names of 11 board members: President Rock Alley, Bill Coppersmith, Debbie Turner, Virginia Olsen, Jason Lord, Riley Poole, Thomas McGuire, Charlie Smith, Gregg Turner, Phil Black and John Bisnette.
The Maine Lobster Union was formed in 2013 as Local 207 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) and also operates its own lobster cooperative.
In a Monday afternoon telephone conversation, union President Alley refused to disclose any details of the situation, saying, “It’s not good. It’s nothing we have done. It’s something Warren has done.”
Alley would not say whether there was any outside investigation of the union’s financials or whether the union’s concerns were under investigation by any law enforcement entity.
“Anything I say now wouldn’t be good for me,” he said Monday. “People talk about it every day. I can’t tell them a lot more.”
Whatever may have occurred, it has not affected business at Lobster 207, Alley said.
“We’re fine, operating every day just the way we have been. Nothing has bothered our business. We’re doing a lot of great things.”
The union’s connection with Warren Pettegrow dates back to at least February 2017 when it voted to buy the wholesale operations of the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound for a reported $4 million and hire Pettegrow, the CEO of the family-operated business. The family retained its popular lobster pound restaurant on the Bar Harbor Road in Trenton.
What the union got for its money, according to a study published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, was a building in Lamoine with two large indoor lobster storage tanks, an outdoor pound in a fenced cove, trucks and equipment.
“More importantly,” according to the study, “the pound’s wholesale business was already operating and had a recurring customer base … (p)urchasing an existing business and hiring an experienced operator allowed the lobstermen to continue doing what they did best — haul lobsters — while capturing more value from the lobster value chain.”
The April 13 letter to union members also announced the hiring of Michael Yohe as the new executive director.