by Jen Lynds
In our newsroom in Bangor, there are several journalists who concentrate solely on covering one subject, such as business, lifestyle or crime.
I am not one of them.
As a reporter in Aroostook County, there is nothing I don’t write about. A typical day could include an article about potato late blight in Houlton, followed by a story about a hospital expansion in Presque Isle, and ending with details of a court arraignment in Caribou. It allows me to become educated on a variety of subjects.
But I wish I didn’t know about all of the things that people do to hurt each other.
Everyone has read stories about crimes such as murder, drug trafficking, sexual abuse of a minor and more. Before I began working as a journalist, I was one of them.
It was only after I began reporting on these crimes that I really recognized the heartbreaking actions taken by perpetrators against their victims.
There are so many images I can’t forget. There was the Wade man who repeatedly sexually abused a young girl. At his sentencing, he insisted she was lying and told her, “I forgive you” for what he saw as false accusations.
There was the teen who was so afraid of the relative who was sexually abusing her that she went to the bathroom on a pile clothes in her room so she would not have to encounter the perpetrator and gained more than 60 pounds to try and appear unattractive to him.
There was the 20-year-old who hunted down and stabbed to death three people, including a 10 year old boy. There was the Fort Kent man who assaulted a 2 year old so violently that the toddler died from deep internal injury to the abdomen after his liver and the root of the bowel were torn.
The level of cruelty is sometimes unfathomable.
At the same time, one does not need to use violence to devastate someone’s life. That was evident Friday during the sentencing of James A. Philbrook.
The former New Hampshire stockbroker was convicted in September for bilking a St. Agatha couple out of more than $195,000 that he secured via three separate requests. The retirement age couple had no idea that the money he said he was investing was funding his own lifestyle and paying back money that his son had embezzled from an employer.
The couple spoke in court Friday. The female victim, fraught with health problems and unable to work, targeted Philbrook as she spoke. She reminded him that she had shared with him about how important it was for her and her husband not only to be secure in retirement, but also to bequeath money to their children and grandchildren. Because of their huge financial loss, her husband will have to continue working for a number of years.
Her husband was more direct, glaring at Philbrook and calling him a “thief, a crook and a rat.”
Their son, who accompanied them to the sentencing, was visibly angered when Philbrook’s attorney noted that making his client pay $195,000 in restitution was “unfair.” There were conflicting statements regarding how the convicted felon saw the money he stole. At one point, he said that he lost the funds in a shoddy investment deal, which he also had invested and lost money in. At another point, he said that the funds were personal loans.
The jury didn’t believe him, nor did Superior Court Justice E. Allen Hunter. He was incredulous when Philbrook testified that while he had spent years helping strangers craft financial plans, he had no idea how much money his wife made per year, the amount of his monthly mortgage payments or details of various insurance and benefit plans.
His statements were, Hunter said, “wholly unbelievable.”
Philbrook will serve three years in prison.
Looking at the victimized couple, I couldn’t imagine how it would feel to work all of your life and save money for retirement, only to have someone you trusted and who was much more sophisticated about finances than you were wipe it all out. Although Philbrook was ordered to pay them $195,000 in restitution, there is no guarantee they’ll get the money.
It is ironic that this man, who they hired to help them find security, ultimately took that away from them.
While certain types of crime are on the rise in The County, the goodness in the people here overshadows that..
Still, one can’t help but grieve for the victims, whose vision of Maine, the way life should be, has been forever shattered.