June 24, 2018
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Selectman: Mattawamkeag firefighting family used town credit card for personal gas

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

MATTAWAMKEAG, Maine — Credit card receipts show that suspended Fire Chief Robert Powers and his wife, Lynne, bought at least $9,000 in gasoline for personal vehicles with a town credit card intended for Fire Department use, Selectman Bion Tolman said Tuesday.

The board’s chairman, Tolman and selectmen, who reviewed the Powerses’ suspension with about 20 residents at a board meeting on Monday night, said they would await the finish of a state police investigation before taking further action.

The department’s fire chief and deputy fire chief, Robert and Lynne Powers have an unlisted telephone number and did not respond to an email sent Tuesday morning. The officer handling the investigation, Trooper Tom Fiske, was not working Tuesday, a state police dispatcher said.

Selectmen voted 3-0 on Monday to place Kira Lane, whom Tolman described as the Powerses’ daughter, on administrative leave without pay because she also used the card, he said. She is a town firefighter and ambulance driver, and town officials found credit card slips that appeared to bear her signature, he said.

The records of credit card transactions, Tolman said, show $9,000 in gasoline purchases at a Lincoln outlet over the last 18 months. Town officials issued the credit card with the understanding that it be used for Fire Department needs at a town gasoline vendor about a mile from the fire station, Tolman said.

“What they [Robert and Lynne Powers] would do is drive to another town and charge the gas rather than get the gas in Mattawamkeag,” Tolman said Tuesday.

Selectmen and town Administrative Assistant Steve Worster placed the Powerses on administrative leave without pay almost a month ago after a representative or representatives for a vendor with whom the town does business contacted town officials to report what they described as a possible and alarming misuse of town funds, Tolman said.

The town’s firefighting vehicles and ambulances, Tolman said, are diesel-fueled. Worster has said he had no knowledge of the couple using the town credit card for their personal vehicles, he said.

Tolman said that when selectmen discussed the billings with Robert Powers, he admitted using the credit card to buy gasoline for his private vehicle.

“He accepted full responsibility” for the unauthorized purchases, Tolman said.

Robert and Lynne Powers have yet to respond to a request from selectmen to resign, Tolman said.

Robert Powers has been chief of Mattawamkeag’s part-time and volunteer Fire Department off and on since November 2003. His tenure was interrupted for three months in 2005, when selectmen voted 2-0 to refuse his letter of resignation after he had a dispute with another town official whom he and selectmen declined to name.

A Lincoln resident and full-time worker at Lincoln Paper & Tissue LLC, Powers accepted what was then a $500-per-month position in November 2003. He resigned for personal reasons in August 2003. He was rehired in November of that year — a testament to town leaders’ approval of Powers’ work, selectmen said at the time.

Lane was paid an hourly rate for driving the ambulance, Tolman said.

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