Eliot Cutler, an older man with gray hair wearing glasses, responds to supporters during his campaign for Maine governor.
Two-time independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler speaks with supporters at an election night gathering at Ocean Gateway in Portland on Nov. 4, 2014. Credit: Denise Farwell / BDN

If you are concerned about a child being neglected or abused, call Maine’s 24-hour hotline at 800-452-1999 or 711 to speak with a child protective specialist. Calls may be made anonymously. For more information, visit this link.

Two-time former Maine gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler was arrested Friday afternoon on felony charges related to possession of child pornography.

Hancock County District Attorney Matthew Foster said Cutler, 75, will be charged with four Class C counts of possessing sexually explicit material involving a child under age 12. He was taken to the Hancock County Jail in Ellsworth. Bail has been set at $50,000.

Cutler, a wealthy lawyer, was born in Bangor to a well-heeled family. He may have fallen just days short of becoming Maine’s governor in 2010. His arrest roiled the political scene in a state where major figures have rarely ever faced such serious criminal allegations.

Police raided homes owned by Cutler in Portland and Brooklin on Wednesday, but they had not said what they were looking for. At his Brooklin farmhouse on Thursday, Cutler declined comment on the investigation. His lawyer, Augusta-based Walter McKee, said he hoped Cutler could bail out over the weekend and avoid having to appear in court on Monday.

Cutler cooperated with authorities when his homes were raided, said Maine State Police spokesperson Shannon Moss. Child pornography cases are often assembled over time with authorities making initial charges based on the strongest immediate evidence. Federal charges often come on the heels of a state arrest because images are typically sent across state lines.

Cutler, whose father was a doctor and mother was an economist, worked as an aide to Sen. Edmund Muskie of Maine and President Jimmy Carter in the 1960s and 1970s. He then made his name and money in international law, re-entering Maine politics as a largely self-funded independent gubernatorial candidate in 2010 after a long history as a Democrat.

It was something he always wanted to do. His mother, Kay, told a Bates College oral history project interviewer in 2002 that she remembered him watching the McCarthy hearings of 1954 on TV while other boys were off doing other things. They once attended a Boy Scout meeting where he insisted on participating in the adult discussion.

“At any rate, he developed an interest in government and as he grew up he kept talking about how he was going to be governor of Maine someday,” said his mother, who died in 2003.

He nearly made it, coming within 10,000 votes of being elected but losing narrowly to former Gov. Paul LePage. Cutler ran again in 2014 but won only 8 percent of votes. His runs were cited as part of the political push to establish ranked-choice voting in Maine. He donated thousands of dollars to a political committee backing a 2016 referendum on the issue.

“I’m shocked and deeply saddened by these charges,” Ted O’Meara, who managed both of Cutler’s campaigns, said Friday night.

Cutler was hired in 2015 by the University of Maine System to lead efforts to create a Portland-based graduate school. He left that position in 2017. He had remained the president of the nonprofit Lerner Foundation until Wednesday, when he stepped down citing personal reasons.

On Friday, Lerner Foundation Executive Director Don Carpenter said the foundation was “deeply disturbed” to learn about the allegations against Cutler. Carpenter said Cutler never directly interacted with students who received grants in his role at the foundation.

Cutler and his wife, Melanie, who was a lawyer before going to medical school and specializing in children and adolescent psychiatry, sold their Cape Elizabeth home for more than $7.5 million in 2021 to Jonathan Bush, the cousin of former President George W. Bush.

BDN writer David Marino Jr. contributed to this report.


Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...