MATTAWAMKEAG, Maine — Penobscot County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy has declined to sign an arrest warrant in connection with allegations that former town Fire Chief Robert Powers bought at least $9,000 in gasoline for personal vehicles with a town credit card intended for Fire Department use, officials said Wednesday.
State police Trooper Thomas Fiske submitted a warrant in January charging Powers with Class D theft in connection with allegations made against him in May 2013, but Almy said he doubted the allegations are provable in court. Under state law, a prosecutor and judge must sign off on warrants before warrant-arrests can occur.
Almy’s reason: The Board of Selectmen effectively approved the purchases that some of its members later alleged were illegal, Almy said.
“The selectmen, with the way this all played out, it is almost as if they were approving what he did,” Almy said Wednesday. “In terms of criminal court, I had some real concerns about whether this is a provable case. He submitted the bills and receipts and they paid them.”
“I am not trying to blame the selectmen, but the way this plays out, he was basically given a green light to do what he was doing,” Almy added.
Almy decided to drop the case on Feb. 4, an official from his office said.
Attempts to reach Powers and town leaders were not immediately successful. No one answered the telephone at the town office on Wednesday. Town Administrative Assistant Steve Worster has an unlisted telephone number, as does Powers. Selectman John Whitehouse did not immediately return a telephone call and Selectmen Joseph Murray and George Sargent apparently have unlisted numbers.
The Board of Selectmen emerged from a 30-minute executive session and voted 3-0 on May 6, 2013, to seek the resignation of Powers after he and his wife, Deputy Fire Chief Lynne Powers, were placed on administrative leave without pay a week before, then-Chairman Bion Tolman said.
The records of town credit card transactions, Tolman said at the time, showed $9,000 in gasoline purchases at a Lincoln outlet over the previous 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.
Selectmen voted 3-0 two weeks later to place Kira Lane, whom Tolman described as the Powers’ daughter, on administrative leave without pay because she also used the card, he said. She was a town firefighter and ambulance driver, and town officials found credit card slips that appeared to bear her signature, he 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. 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 at the time.
Wednesday, Tolman said that when he was on the board selectmen never saw specifically what Powers was billing the town for when they voted to pay warrants covering his and other town workers’ expenses.
“It was all coded. It says like ‘E6’ or ‘E4.’ We were not aware it was gasoline,” Tolman said. “It was all under the assumption that it was diesel. Until the vendor noticed that it was gasoline and notified us, we had no idea it was gasoline” that he was charging.
Robert and Lynne Powers never officially responded to a request from selectmen to resign, Tolman said.
Robert Powers had 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.
At the time a Lincoln resident and full-time worker at Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC, Powers accepted what was then a $500 per month position in November 2003. He had resigned for personal reasons in August 2003, Clark said. The fact he was rehired in November of that year was a testament to town leaders’ approval of Powers’ work, selectmen said at the time.
Powers also developed and expanded the town’s ambulance service, officials said.
Powers is not the first town fire chief to resign. In October 2003, Assistant Chief Hans Miller, Rescue Chief John Heald and Fire Chief Frank Hammond — Powers’ predecessor — resigned, and the town’s fire rescue squad dwindled from 28 members to nine. Fire rescue team members alluded to micromanagement of the team by certain town officials and said they “cannot in good conscience recommend anyone for the chief’s position.”
The controversy has divided residents, Tolman said. Some support Powers and others do not.
“There are some very upset residents,” Tolman said. “It was a lot of money.”