MANCHESTER — A south Manchester man was cleared Thursday of a theft charge that sprang from an elaborate Manchester police sting that took place last December at a shopping center, where police used an supposedly abandoned purse to entice and trap would-be thieves.
In a two-page order signed Thursday, Manchester District Court Judge William Lyons ruled that the charge — theft of lost or mislaid propety — does not apply because the property was neither lost nor mislaid.
Police had placed a purse with $60 and a DVD player inside a Game Stop shopping bag in the shopping cart.
"The court rules as a matter of law that unless the propery in question is not in fact lost or mislaid, then the Court cannot find that there is an offense under (the law)," Lyones wrote. Lyons found Alexander Ramasci innocent of the crime.
The sting took place on Dec. 7 at the T.J. Maxx plaza on South Willow Street. Ramasci testified he drove into the parking lot, saw the shopping cart, waited around for a couple of minutes, and put the material in his trunk.
He bought a gift at the Game Stop store, then returned to his car and left. He has said he planned to drive home, go through the purse and try to find the owner.
But Manchester police pulled him over after he left the T.J. Maxx plaza on South Willow Street and started peppering him with questions about suspicous activity and drug dealing.
During a trial in April, Ramasci said he's wary of picking up a quarter he sees lying on the street.
His lawyer, Manchester alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur, said he will ask the New Hampshire Liquor Commission to rehire Ramasci, who lost his job after his arrest. Ramasci has yet to find a job; Levasseur said he suspects potential employers reject him after his ordeal surfaces during Internet searches.
Levasseur also used the verdict to criticize Manchester Police Chief David Mara, whom he has tangled with as alderman.
"This is just another slap upside his head," Levasseur said. "They put together a ridiculous sting operation and a bad public-policy message for people who find things."
Police have said they conduct the stings to thwart thieves who prey on shoppers during the busy Christmas season.
Mara would not comment on Levasseur's remarks when contacted by telephone Thursday afternoon. A message left for prosecutor Rose-Marie Balboni at the Hillsborough County Attorney Office was not returned.