August 17, 2018
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Maine attorney accused of stealing from Japan exchange program

Courtesy of Lincoln County News
Courtesy of Lincoln County News
By J.W. Oliver, Lincoln County News
Updated:

The Damariscotta Police Department has arrested a local attorney on charges related to taking thousands of dollars, which he later repaid, from a nonprofit that facilitates student exchanges between Bath and a city in Japan.

Jonathan C. Hull, 72, who lives in Newcastle and practices in Damariscotta, faces one count each of class B forgery, class B theft by unauthorized taking, class D misuse of entrusted property and class E falsify private records, according to court documents. He was arrested Wednesday, Aug. 8.

“I have no comment at this time,” Hull said in a brief phone conversation Thursday, Aug. 9. “I don’t know what this is all about, but I’m going to find out.”

An affidavit by Sgt. Erick Halpin, of the Damariscotta Police Department, details the investigation.

“In summary, for reasons unknown to me at present, I found Hull made 28 unauthorized withdrawals from (the Cheseborough Program’s) checking account starting on February 16, 2017, and ending on May 7, 2018, totaling $24,250,” Halpin said in the affidavit. “I also found Hull had made seven deposits from his accounts into Cheseborough’s checking account starting on March 6, 2017, and ending on July 14, 2018, totaling $25,250.”

The Cheseborough Program seeks “to further the educational, cultural, economic and interpersonal relations between the people of Maine and the people of Japan,” according to an excerpt from the nonprofit’s bylaws that appears in the affidavit. “The principal method of accomplishing this purpose is to support and guide the annual student exchanges between students from the greater Bath City Area and students from the greater Tsugaru City area.”

Jessica Picard | Lincoln County News
Jessica Picard | Lincoln County News
Attorney Jonathan Hull speaks on behalf of Our Town during a public hearing about the 435 Main St. development before the Damariscotta Board of Appeals on March 27. Hull was arrested Wednesday, Aug. 8.

The Cheseborough Program is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit named for the Cheseborough, a ship from Bath that wrecked off the coast of what is now Tsugaru in 1889. The wreck led to a “sister city” relationship and the student exchange. The nonprofit was founded in 2007, according to its website.

Hull was a board member of the Cheseborough Program for “many years” and the program’s treasurer from June 8, 2016, until his resignation May 24, 2018, according to Halpin’s affidavit. He resigned from the board two days later.

Lincoln County residents likely know Hull for his longstanding Damariscotta practice. High-profile clients in recent years include the town of Bremen and opponents of the 435 Main St. development in Damariscotta.

The acting president of the Cheseborough board, Elizabeth Hartung, contacted the Damariscotta Police Department on June 1, according to Halpin’s affidavit.

The department worked closely with the Lincoln and Sagadahoc County district attorney’s offices during the two-month-plus investigation, according to a statement from the department.

Earlier in 2018, Hartung contacted Hull to ask for financial information necessary to plan upcoming student travel. She told police Hull had not been attending board meetings and had not presented financial reports to the board.

On May 14, “Jon Hull called me, apologized, and told me that he had taken money out of the Cheseborough account and that he would repay it the following week,” Hartung said in a statement to police.

Hull did not return the money the following week, according to Hartung’s account to police. On May 26, she set a repayment deadline of May 30.

“He responded that he could not recall telling me he would have the money back in a week and that he could not meet (the) May 30, 2018 financial deadline,” she said in a statement. At an emergency meeting May 30, the board unanimously voted that Hartung should report the matter to authorities.

Upon receipt of the organization’s bank statements from January 2016 to May 2018, Halpin discovered 28 unauthorized checks totaling $24,250, according to his affidavit. Most were deposited into Hull’s accounts, while two were cashed. There were also two deposits from Hull’s accounts to the Cheseborough account totaling $19,250.

After the discovery of the missing money, Hull made five deposits from June 1 to July 14, totaling $6,000, according to the affidavit. He contacted Hartung to inform her of the last deposit.

“The last repayment has been made today,” Hull said in a message to Hartung that she provided to Halpin.

In addition to the theft allegations, Hull is accused of falsifying the organization’s records.

“After reviewing the income and expense statements Hull had shared with the Cheseborough Board, I found Hull’s reports did not match up with the activity and balances” in the bank statements, Halpin said in his affidavit. “I found no mention in his financial reports to Cheseborough’s board of the 28 withdrawals and 2 deposits made by Hull.”

Halpin obtained a warrant for Hull’s arrest Wednesday, Aug. 8.

Sgt. Craig Worster of the Wiscasset Police Department detained Hull at the Lincoln County Courthouse in Wiscasset the same day, according to Damariscotta Police Chief Jason Warlick. Halpin met Worster and Hull shortly thereafter and took Hull to Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset.

He was released on $5,000 bail Thursday morning, according to jail personnel.

The Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar is aware of “concerning issues” regarding Hull, but has yet to take any action, according to Executive Director Jacqueline Rogers. The board regulates the conduct of lawyers in Maine.

Reached by email, the Cheseborough Program deferred to the authorities.

“This is an active investigation and all information and documentation is in the hands of the proper authorities,” Hartung said. “The Board is abiding by their guidance.”

The Damariscotta Police Department’s investigation is ongoing, according to a statement from the department.

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