AUGUSTA, Maine — Former Maine Turnpike Authority Executive Director Paul Violette has been charge with felony theft by the state Attorney General’s Office in connection with hundreds of thousands of dollars that were misappropriated during his tenure.
Violette has agreed to plead guilty to the charges.
Just last month, Violette reached a settlement with the turnpike authority to repay $430,000. Under the agreement, Violette is responsible for repaying $155,000; the rest will be split by two bonding companies, Travelers Casualty and CNA Surety.
On the criminal side, Violette was charged with one count of Class B theft, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, according to attorney general spokeswoman Brenda Kielty. The severity of theft charges is determined by the amount of money stolen. Class B theft involves more than $10,000.
Violette’s attorney, Peter DeTroy, told The Associated Press on Thursday that Violette has agreed to an eight-year sentence with at least three of the years suspended. A sentencing date has not been set.
Violette resigned last spring from a job he held for 23 years shortly after allegations of financial impropriety at the turnpike authority emerged.
A forensic audit of the authority’s finances, coupled with an investigation by the Legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, revealed roughly $450,000 in expenditures between 2003 and 2010 that were undocumented or unauthorized.
Specifically, Violette is suspected of questionable spending practices, including the purchase of $150,000 in gift cards to posh hotels and restaurants, some of which he reportedly used himself, some of which were donated to other organizations unrelated to turnpike business.
On one day, Violette purchased more than $35,000 worth of gift cards to Hyatt hotels, according to the complaint. On another, $10,000 was spent on Hyatt gift cards. A few days later, $15,000 worth of Fairmont hotel gift cards were purchased.
In addition to the alleged abuse of gift cards and agency credit cards, the lawsuit filed by the authority claimed Violette was paid for $160,000 in vacation and sick time to which he was not entitled.
The Maine Turnpike Authority is responsible for management of more than 100 miles of interstate from Kittery to Augusta. The agency employs 470, collects approximately $100 million in tolls every year and is overseen by a seven-member board whose members are appointed by the governor.
Violette had run the turnpike authority since 1988, but the allegations of financial wrongdoing date back only about eight years.
Longtime lawmaker Peter Mills took over the Maine Turnpike Authority last year and a handful of new board members were appointed. Mills has said great steps have been taken to restore confidence and increase accountability.
“The board has taken a series of responsible measures to ensure that the turnpike now operates with the highest standards and fiscal integrity,” Mills said last month. “Our goal is to continue improving the operational efficiency of the turnpike and to maintain its strong financial rating.”