AG taking ex-state worker to court over unpaid debt

Posted Nov. 01, 2010, at 10:41 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The state won’t wait any longer for a former official to voluntarily pay the $4,314 debt he ran up on a state credit card two years ago.

The state Attorney General’s Office confirmed it is going to take James Cook, who got his state job with the help of Gov. John Baldacci, to small claims court.

William Laubenstein, chief of the Attorney General’s Office government division, said Monday, “Obviously, we’d like to recover the outstanding debt in full,” but if the state wins the case and Cook still does not pay, he said the state could go after Cook’s assets.

The case was referred to the Attorney General’s Office by state controller Terry Brann after letters written to Cook failed to get him to pay the debt.

“My recollection is that this is the first time we have contacted the AG regarding an outstanding travel card liability,” Brann said.

Cook, a Bangor native, left the state Department of Economic and Community Development, where he had worked part of the time with the tourism division, in the fall of 2008. He had spent $4,900 on authorized state travel to places such as New York City, Long Beach, Calif., and Washington, D.C. The state reimbursed Cook for that amount and Cook was supposed to use that money to pay off the charges on his state-issued credit card, which he failed to do, according to records.

He also left owing $802 on a cash travel advance the state had given him.

Cook did not respond to an e-mailed request by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting for comment and he has no listed telephone number.

The center reported the problem in April and Cook a few days later paid $802 toward the debt. There have been no further payments since then, according to Brann.

Cook also was the subject of a March story by the center that documented how he landed two well-paying jobs under then-DECD Commissioner John Richardson, despite not meeting the formal qualifications for the job.

Richardson said Cook was recommended for a job by the governor’s office, which confirmed to the center that Baldacci supported the hiring.

Cook also worked for Baldacci’s first inauguration committee and later got his first state job in the governor’s office that coordinated the redevelopment of Brunswick Naval Air Station.

Cook’s primary work experience until then was as a UPS truck driver and political organizer for the Teamsters union.

David Farmer, spokesman for Gov. Baldacci, said, “It’s our understanding that the matter has been referred to the Office of the Attorney General for a small claims action and that it is being handled in a way similar to other collection matters.”

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism organization based in Hallowell. Online: pinetreewatchdog.org; e-mail: mainecenter@gmail.com.

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