Maine Turnpike goes after money spent by former director

| 7/20/2011

The Maine Turnpike Authority has filed a civil complaint against former Executive Director Paul Violette in an attempt to recover money the agency says Violette spent questionably.

The authority’s board of directors filed the complaint Tuesday, July 19, in Cumberland County Superior Court, seeking restitution from Violette for “certain personal expenditures and reimbursements” charged to the agency from 2003 through 2010.

Violette has been the focus of public and political scrutiny since January, when the state’s Office of Program Evaluation & Government Accountability issued a report that called personal and agency spending practices into question.

The oversight report identified $157,000 in gift card purchases from various hotel chains and restaurants in 2005 and 2006 that included no formal records of who received the gifts.

The report also identified $454,000 in sponsorships or donations made to 50 different organizations, including membership dues that fell outside the scope of operating a toll road. In total, the oversight agency questioned more than $2 million in personal and agency spending in its report.

Violette resigned March 7. A month later, a legislative panel called Violette to a hearing to speak to the questionable spending practices. Although he attended the hearing, Violette exercised his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and chose not to speak on the issue.

In the meantime, Gov. Paul LePage appointed a new executive director to the Maine Turnpike Authority, former state Sen. Peter Mills.

LePage signed a bill into law in June calling for agency reform. That included a forensic audit that went beyond the state’s oversight agency’s findings in January.

“The lawsuit (against Violette) is a product of that painstaking audit, the results of which the MTA Board has shared with the appropriate state authorities,” Maine Turnpike leadership stated Tuesday in a press release.

According to media reports, Violette’s attorney says he’s not surprised by the action. Attorney Peter DeTroy says the political climate in Maine has put pressure on authorities to “pursue something publicly” according to The Portland Press Herald.

As the civil matter is playing out, the Office of the Maine Attorney General is considering a criminal case against Violette, according to the media report.

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