Maine turnpike gift card vendors to get subpoenas

Posted March 11, 2011, at 3:37 p.m.
Last modified March 12, 2011, at 7:45 a.m.
Paul Violette is shown in May 2009 when he was executive directory of the Maine Turnpike Authority. Violette resigned on March 7 amid questions and growing criticism about the turnpike finances and his leadership.
Courtesy of Maine Turnpike Authority | AP
Paul Violette is shown in May 2009 when he was executive directory of the Maine Turnpike Authority. Violette resigned on March 7 amid questions and growing criticism about the turnpike finances and his leadership.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A legislative panel agreed Friday to issue subpoenas to gift card vendors and to notify Maine Turnpike Authority officials to be prepared to testify under oath next month about $157,000 in gift cards that were given away to charitable organizations and trade groups.

The Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee will send subpoenas seeking records from five vendors that provided gift cards to the turnpike authority. It also asked turnpike senior staff, board members and a few vendors to be prepared to testify under oath on April 15.

“We absolutely intend to get to the bottom of this,” said Republican Sen. Roger Katz, committee co-chairman.

Questions about the gift cards for high-end hotels and restaurants that were provided to organizations from 2005 to 2007 led to the resignation of Paul Violette, the turnpike authority’s executive director. Violette gave the cards to a wide range of groups, but hasn’t been able to provide a precise accounting.

State law governing donations by quasi-governmental agencies to outside organizations is vague. Assistant Attorney General Phyllis Gardiner told the committee that she doesn’t have enough information to determine whether the gift card donations were a violation of state law.

But the head of the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Account said the expenditures are unusual. OPEGA Executive Director Beth Ashcroft told the committee that virtually no other quasi-state agencies in Maine gave away money or hired outside lobbyists, said Rep. Leslie Fossel, who serves on the committee.

The gift-card expenditures were brought to light in an OPEGA review of the turnpike authority that was done at the direction of the oversight committee. Besides the gift-card expenditures, the report identified at least $454,000 in additional sponsorships and donations the turnpike authority made to as many as 50 different charitable and non-charitable organizations.

Several members of the Transportation Committee sat in on Friday’s session.

The oversight committee will have several recommendations for the Transportation Committee, including requiring the turnpike’s reserve maintenance account to be open to legislative review, and either a strengthening or elimination of a law requiring excess turnpike revenues to be given to the state, Katz said.

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