An Episcopal priest from Augusta pleaded guilty Tuesday morning to misdemeanor possession of Suboxone and will serve 45 days in jail followed by one year of probation.
The Rev. Stephen Foote, 70, of Bremen, was sentenced to 364 days of incarceration, with all but 45 days suspended, and one year of probation, in an agreement with the office of the Maine Attorney General, according to Bill Stokes, deputy attorney general and chief of the office’s criminal division.
“We don’t see priests smuggling drugs into jails — that’s pretty uncommon,” Stokes said Tuesday. “And we understand Rev. Foote has no prior criminal record, but we really insisted that he do some jail time because we were more concerned that we send the message that you’re going to do jail time if you do this, even if you’re a priest.”
Stokes said Tuesday that the attorney general’s office agreed to the plea on the condition that the sentence include “a significant amount of community service” to include Foote spending time “talking about the error of his ways.”
Foote was arrested in November 2012 and charged with smuggling the drug Suboxone into Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset during October, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department Detective Michael Murphy said at the time.
Also charged in the case were Joshua Theriault Patten, 25, of Bremen, who Murphy said is one of Foote’s parishioners, and Adam Shawley, 27, of Newport.
Murphy said Patten and Shawley arranged for the drug to be mailed to Foote. The resolution of their cases was not available Tuesday.
At the time of his arrest, Foote had been serving as the transitional priest-in-charge at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Augusta. He had retired as dean of The Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Portland in 2003.
In a statement released Tuesday by his attorney, William Avantaggio of Damariscotta, Foote said he is “heartily sorry” for the act he committed, and that he forwarded prescription medication through the mail out of “anxiety and concern for an inmate’s personal welfare and safety.”
His statement continues:
“My error in judgment cannot be excused, and I am determined to make amends.
“One aspect of my sentence will be to perform community service. I plan to use that time to help create a regular group support system for families and friends of inmates in area jails and prison in midcoast Maine.
“I deeply regret the harm and embarrassment my actions have brought the religious community and, especially, my friends and colleagues in the Episcopal Diocese of Maine and my bishop. My actions reflect badly on the hundreds of people and clergy who engage in the important work of prison ministry throughout Maine. I hope that my story will draw attention to the vulnerability of inmates in the prison culture and the growing problem of drugs being illegally brought into correctional facilities everywhere.”
The Episcopal Diocese of Maine said at the time of Foote’s arrest that he was immediately placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.
On Tuesday, Heidi Schott, canon for communications for the diocese, released the following statement, noting that Foote would remain on administrative leave until the church’s disciplinary process is concluded:
“The Episcopal Diocese of Maine welcomes the news of the resolution of the criminal case against Stephen Foote of Bremen, a retired priest currently on administrative leave in this diocese.
“With that portion of the case concluded, the Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane, Bishop of Maine, now turns to the resolution of Title IV proceedings, the disciplinary process for clergy that is canonically required by The Episcopal Church.
“Bishop Lane asks that Maine Episcopalians keep all those involved in their prayers as this situation approaches its conclusion.”
A phone call to Avantaggio on Tuesday was not immediately returned.
Stokes said Tuesday that the Attorney General’s office agreed to the plea on the condition that the sentence include “a significant amount of community service” to include Foote spending time “talking about the error of his ways.”