A former deputy mayor of Brewer was fined $650 on Thursday after admitting that he lied to police earlier this year when he claimed someone hacked into his social media accounts and posted racist statements about the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Thomas Morelli, 63, blamed a number of stressors and “a bit of overindulgence in alcohol” for leading him to post the statements. Morelli initially told Brewer police that someone hacked his Facebook account and made the posts in late May.
He was later charged with making a false public report and was issued a court summons on June 2. On July 14, his attorney, Jeffrey Silverstein of Bangor, entered a not guilty plea on his client’s behalf before entering the guilty plea Thursday and paying the fine at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor.
Penobscot County District Attorney Marianne Lynch did not ask for jail time.
She said Thursday that the $650 fine was equivalent to the amount of money the Brewer police spent investigating Morelli’s complaint.
Shortly before appearing at the courthouse, Silverstein issued a statement on Morelli’s behalf. It included an apology for his comments and said that Morelli, who also runs a photography business, was under stress when he posted them.
Morelli cited “the COVID pandemic shutdown, his business losses, the racial crisis generated by the George Floyd matter and a bit of overindulgence in alcohol,” Silverstein said in an email. Morelli misunderstood that his statements “would have such a wide impact.
“He did not intend to mislead anybody with the City of Brewer,” Silverstein said.
The attorney said that because Morelli had never served as a public official before he was elected to the Brewer City Council in November 2018, he did not understand the impact personal matters could “have on public discourse.”
“Mr. Morelli is remorseful for any impact his actions had on the citizens and municipality of Brewer and wishes them all the best moving forward,” Silverstein said.
Morelli, who continues to actively promote his photography business on social media, did not attend the court hearing.
Under the law, attorneys may enter pleas on behalf of clients charged with misdemeanor crimes and pay fines for them.
Morelli resigned from the city council and apologized the day he was charged, saying he was “ashamed of my comments and behavior.”
Police have not disclosed the nature of the comments Morelli posted but have said they were related to the killing of Floyd, who died at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in late May, sparking demonstrations against police brutality nationwide.
Earlier this year, Brewer Mayor Jerry Goss described them as “derogatory and inflammatory.”
A 1975 graduate of Brewer High School, Morelli was serving a three-year term on the city council.
Jenn Morin was elected Nov. 3 to complete the final year of Morelli’s term, which had been vacant since his resignation.
Filing a false report is a Class D misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of a year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000.