Michael Kukuruza

Conway resident Michael Kukuruza stands before a Carroll County Superior Court jury on Nov. 28, 2018. He was recently convicted of stealing thousands of dollars from Cumberland Farms in Conway. (DAYMOND STEER PHOTO)

OSSIPEE — The former store clerk convicted last month of stealing nearly $7,000 from the Cumberland Farms in Conway Village has been sentenced to up to four years in prison.

Michael Kukuruza, 41, of Conway was accused of taking $6,850 from the Conway Village Cumberland Farms’ safe during the early morning hours of April 26, 2017, while working as a cashier.

The prosecution sought to prove Kukuruza was guilty of a Class A felony by stealing more than $1,500. Last year, Kukuruza represented himself in court and successfully argued his first trial into a hung jury on Nov. 30, 2018.

This year, Kukurza was not so lucky. The trial began Dec. 12 at around 10 a.m. The jury went into deliberations just after 11 a.m. on Dec. 13 and delivered a verdict shortly before 12:30 p.m.

Carroll County Superior Court Judge Amy Ignatius sentenced Kukuruza on Jan. 3 to two to four years in the state penitentiary.

He also was ordered to pay $6,850.80 in restitution to Cumberland Farms.

Kukuruza is scheduled to appear at Carroll County Superior Court for transport at 9 a.m. on Friday.

Assistant County Attorney Keith Blair said in his opening statements at the new trial that when the crimes were committed, Kukuruza was a new employee working his first solo shift without supervision at the Conway convenience store.

Using security footage, Blair took the jury through a scenario showing that at around 4:15 a.m., Kukuruza notices the safe is unlocked and a short time later, “stretches with a pretext” of trying to hide the fact that he’s scanning the ceiling for cameras. Then he approaches the safe.

Kukuruza then “rummages around” three times in the manager’s section of the safe, making motions indicating he is stuffing something in his pants and walks out of the area. He locks the safe at the end of his shift to make his crime less obvious, Blair said.

“What you know is that he went into that safe multiple times; each time he goes in, he’s bending over and putting something in his pants and then covering it up with his shirt and then he’s walking out,” said Blair.

“He’s got the money in his pants, ladies and gentlemen.”

The store manager discovered the cash missing at about 7 a.m. Blair said the manager recalled making a “horrible mistake” on April 25. Her normal shift was 5 a.m.-3 p.m. but on that day she had to work 12 hours because the store was having a job fair. Her grandson also was having a birthday party.

“Because she was in a rush to get out of the store, she forget to go to the safe and take out the deposit she had compiled earlier that day from the sales of the 24th,” said Blair.

Prior to the jury entering the room, Ignatius told Kukuruza that if he spoke to his personal knowledge of the events, that would be opening himself up for cross-examination; however, she allowed him to offer an opinion of what the evidence showed.

“I feel like I’m a little limited to what I can say to you here so I’ll let the trial unfold for you,” Kukuruza said during opening statements. “We’ll go through the witnesses they provide and the testimony and the evidence that they show. In the end, because I’m innocent until proven guilty, I will say that I will remain innocent because they will not be able to prove me guilty.”

During closings, Kukuruza said the state didn’t call key witnesses in his case. For example, the jury never got to hear from Cumberland Farm’s loss prevention manager, as he wasn’t called as a witness.

“My (biggest) concern is the police didn’t do an investigation,” said Kukuruza. “You heard from Officer (Tomasz) Tepper himself that he didn’t do an investigation. He took it from the loss prevention guy and the manager from Cumberland Farms.”

The prosecutor said Kukuruza was asking the jury to speculate that some other person might have taken the money and the jury wasn’t being shown that video. He asked the jury if it was reasonable to believe Cumberland Farms was just letting someone else get away with the theft.

Blair acted out an analogy to the case using a pen. “You can see the pen in my hand,” he said, holding up a black pen and then turning his back to the jury to hide the pen. “It’s a reasonable inference that the pen is in my pocket. It’s not magic. I didn’t make it disappear.”

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