Case of Wesley’s missing town funds in hands of prosecutor, says sheriff

Posted June 03, 2014, at 12:54 p.m.
Last modified June 03, 2014, at 2:56 p.m.

WESLEY, Maine — The case of missing public funds from the town of Wesley was turned over months ago to District Attorney Carletta M. Bassano, but investigators have heard nothing from the prosecutor’s office since then, they reported Monday.

Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith and a deputy, Lt. Travis Willey, briefed residents on the status of the probe prior to the town’s annual meeting Monday night. They met with an audience of about 50 people for nearly 30 minutes.

Willey began the probe last year after the attorney general’s office declined to investigate, he said.

“We decided to pick up the ball and run with it,” said Willey, after an auditor reported the town was missing $44,000.

Willey met with Bassano in Machias in December to brief her on the outcome of the investigation, and he subsequently provided her office with the information he had gathered, said Willey.

Smith explained that Bassano has three options: to ask for additional information, to move forward and prosecute the case, or not to prosecute. However, his office has heard nothing from Bassano since then, Smith said.

Bassano did not immediately return a phone message inquiring about the case.

Tim Feeley, a spokesman for Attorney General Janet Mills, gave a different version of the events recounted by Willey.

“We became aware of this matter in early June 2013 and spoke with Lt. Willey, who confirmed that he was in contact with the auditor and would be himself investigating the matter,” Feeley said in an email. “We offered whatever assistance he needed during the course of his investigation; there was no request for us to do anything further.”

Wesley residents voted at the annual town meeting a year ago to ratify that $44,000 was missing to account for the missing funds in an annual audit. They also voted to continue with an investigation.

Smith said he sent an email to Bassano’s office apprising her of the town meeting and briefing session and suggesting she attend. He received no response, he said.

“It’s frustrating to us,” Smith told the gathering.

Willey held up a hand, gesturing with his fingers the thickness of the file on the investigation — about 5 inches, he estimated.

Smith, who has eight deputies, said his office has spent a “tremendous amount of man hours” on the case.

“I think it’s a good case. I think it’s a strong case,” said Smith.

If any charges are filed as a result of the investigation, they would have to be issued as an indictment or as an arrest warrant, explained Willey.

Selectman Ron Hawkins said some residents have suggested the Board of Selectmen or Smith’s office is sweeping the matter under the proverbial rug.

“We don’t even have a broom,” Hawkins said.

Smith offered a similar reassurance.

“These cases are time consuming,” he said.

Hawkins has been in contact with a victim advocate for the district attorney’s office as recently as three weeks ago, the selectman said Tuesday, discussing the issue further by phone. The advocate told him she would let him know when the file was being looked at, he said.

“I think they’ve done all they can do,” said Hawkins, referring to the investigation by the sheriff’s office. “The sheriff’s department’s done a good job. They’re very frustrated just like we are.”

“The DA’s office has had it way too long,” Hawkins said. “It makes no sense.”

 

CORRECTION:

An earlier version of this story reported that Smith and Willey met with Bassano in Machias in December. Smith did not participate in the meeting.

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