Oct. 27—PORTLAND — A judge Wednesday sentenced a Paris man who stole 20 guns from a West Paris store to five years of probation, calling it a rare case where the defendant has rehabilitated himself to the point where prison may cause him to relapse back into addiction.
Federal guidelines recommended a prison sentence for 43-year-old Scott Irish of between 37 and 46 months, based on the facts of the case and Irish's criminal background.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Conley said Wednesday in U.S. District Court that he agreed with those guidelines.
But David Beneman, who represented Irish, said his client was unique in that he turned his life around from having been addicted to drugs to achieving sobriety for nearly two years.
That's not all Irish has done to rehabilitate himself since his arrest on Dec. 29, 2020, Beneman told U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Torresen.
After checking out of a drug rehabilitation center, Irish went to live in a so-called sober house. He began working again as a carpenter, at first for a contracting company, then for himself, Beneman said.
He not only established himself as a contractor in central Maine, but went on to employ fellow sober house residents. He was able to rebuild his life, outfitting himself with a truck and tools of the trade, Beneman said.
Irish became addicted to illegal drugs when he was a teenager, Beneman said.
He became addicted to opiates 15 years ago after he was prescribed pain medication after surgery, Toressen noted before imposing sentence.
"I'm very conflicted by this case," she said.
Because Irish agreed to pay $4,000 to the owner of the shop he burglarized for the cost of the stolen merchandise, Toressen said he would be more likely to be able to pay that restitution if he were to continue to work and earn income.
She also said prison is "not always the best place to go to stay clean."
Conley had stressed the impact of Irish's crimes on the store owner as well as the community and public at large.
"He could have outfitted a platoon of Marines with the amount of weapons he took," Conley said.
The owner of J & K Sporting Goods in West Paris has experienced anger, fear, guilt, anxiety, sadness and depression since the Dec. 28, 2020, burglary and theft. He struggles with feelings of having been violated and has had trouble trusting people, Conley said.
"This remains an ongoing nightmare for him," Conley said.
Moreover, the burglary has put the community at risk by flooding it with untraceable firearms, not all of which have been recovered, Conley said.
Beneman said his client volunteered to help federal investigators track down the guns.
But Conley said one of those guns ended up in the fatal self-inflicted shooting of a man in New Hampshire.
"These guns don't end up in the hands of law-abiding people," he said.
Conley said the store owner, if asked, would say the $4,000 restitution offered by Irish "doesn't come anywhere close to covering his loss."
Irish pleaded guilty to two federal felonies, including theft from a licensed firearm dealer and felon in possession of a firearm.
Investigators said Irish reportedly stole three pistols from the J & K store at 112 Bethel Road in West Paris about 1:30 a.m. on Dec. 28, 2020.
He was identified through surveillance video footage at the store and by the clothes he wore when shopping the same day at another store.
When officers took Irish into custody, he was reportedly wearing one of the stolen guns on his hip. The other two guns, as well as drugs, were reportedly found in the van he'd been driving.
Conley said Irish had two prior convictions for drug trafficking.
He commended Irish for the strides he has made to change the course of his life, but said that "can't wipe out any of the harm he's caused."
Beneman said both of Irish's parents died in 2016 and he was in a dark place after hitting bottom in his heroin addiction.
Beneman said Irish didn't have a buyer in mind when he stole the guns.
Irish apologized to the store owner in court Wednesday, saying his actions were "completely out of character" for him.
He said he "dove deep" into addiction after his parents' deaths.
Irish said he had no money, was cold and high when he committed the burglary out of "desperation."
Toressen said Irish appears to be on track to recovery with his addiction, work life and family life, having reunited with family members.
She agreed with Beneman that Irish's was a rare case of someone who was able to redirect his life after decades of addiction.
After his arrest, Irish spent nearly two months in jail.
Toressen said putting him behind bars wouldn't necessarily protect the community. But allowing him to continue to work, he would be helping homeowners by improving their properties with his carpentry skills.
In addition to the five years of probation, Toressen ordered that Irish perform 100 hours of community service at a nonprofit organization.
Conditions of his probation include no illegal drugs or alcohol for which he'll be tested.
He may have no contact with the owner of the store in West Paris.
If Irish were to violate terms of his probation, Toressen said she would not show him the leniency she showed Wednesday.
"I wish you luck," Torresen said after imposing sentence, "The luck of the Irish, I guess."