Seacoast Online | Former turnpike executive appears headed for jail

Posted: January 25, 2012 | Government Oversight Committee, News Items, Senator Hill, Transportation

Source: Seacoast Online, January 25, 2012

Former turnpike executive likely to serve jail time

AUGUSTA — Former Maine Turnpike Authority Executive Director Paul Violette was charged Jan. 19 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 after the underlying charges were 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, R-York. “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, D-York) hadn’t worked so hard, he might just still be there.”

Then-state Rep. Hill, as a member of the Government Oversight Committee, convinced fellow members in 2010 to allow the Office of Program Evaluation and Governmental Accountability to launch a probe of the MTA’s books. OPEGA’s report questioned Violette’s purchase of hundreds of gift cards for upscale restaurants and hotels, and questioned charges for personal travel and other expenses on MTA credit cards.

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 8-year sentence, with three years suspended, said Violette’s attorney, Peter DeTroy. A sentencing date has not been set.

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.

The York toll plaza remains in place, with further action still uncertain.

— From staff and wire reports