Seacoast Online | Former MTA boss plans guilty plea, prison time
Source: Seacoast Online, January 20, 2012
Former Maine Turnpike Authority Executive Director Paul Violette was charged Thursday with felony theft in connection with unauthorized use of turnpike funds and is expected to plead guilty to the charges in exchange for a term in prison of no more than five years.
A plea arrangement was made within hours of the underlying charges being filed against Violette by Maine Attorney General William Schneider.
The news was greeted with great interest by local legislators and members of Think Again, the York-based group that formed to fight the MTA over its plans to build a new toll plaza there.
“It’s gone full cycle,” said state Rep. Windol Weaver. “It started with that little group in York, and look at where it’s ended.”
“He’s getting what he’s due,” said Marshall Jarvis of Think Again. “If we hadn’t been so active, if (state Sen.) Dawn (Hill) hadn’t worked so hard, he might just still be there.”
Then-state Rep. Hill, as a member of the Government Oversight Committee, persuaded fellow members in 2010 to allow the Office of Program Evaluation and Governmental Accountability to launch a probe of the MTA’s books. The investigation unearthed questionable transactions by Violette.
OPEGA’s subsequent report questioned Violette’s purchase of hundreds of gift cards for upscale restaurants and hotels. Violette said he gave the cards to civic and charitable groups for fund-raisers, but he couldn’t document where they went and evidence surfaced that many of the cards were spent for his personal uses.
Violette also was questioned about charges for personal travel, meals and other expenses on MTA credit cards, including visits to Europe during which he stayed at top-tier hotels and entertained lavishly.
Hill said Thursday she was just learning about the charges against Violette and declined to comment until she had more knowledge, “but I can tell you I’ve been impressed that the AG’s office stayed with it.”
Violette was charged with obtaining unauthorized control over MTA property with a total value in excess of $10,000, attorney general spokeswoman Brenda Kielty said.
The charge carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison. However, Violette and the attorney general’s office agreed to an eight-year sentence, with three years suspended, said Violette’s attorney, Peter DeTroy.
A sentencing date has not been set.
Violette’s 23-year reign as the head of the Maine Turnpike came crashing down with his resignation in March amid allegations of lavish spending and misappropriation of turnpike funds. Violette last month agreed to pay the MTA $155,000 of his own money to settle a civil lawsuit while the attorney general’s office conducted a criminal investigation.
The lawsuit alleged Violette misused nearly $500,000 in turnpike funds, spent another $143,479 in “abusive credit card expenses” and was also overpaid by $161,000 for unused vacation time and sick leave after claiming he hadn’t taken any vacation or sick days during his 23 years at the agency.
“What he was doing was illegal,” said Jarvis, “and we were suffering as a result of that. There was too much power and not enough oversight.”
That sense of power extended into Violette’s dealings with Think Again, he said.
“He didn’t listen and he had no interest in finding a community solution. He was going to do what he was going to do, period,” Jarvis said.
The York toll plaza remains in place, with further action still uncertain.