– EDWARD D. MURPHY

Staff Writer

The former president of Biddeford’s La Kermesse was charged Wednesday with stealing thousands of dollars from the festival and a condominium association for which she was treasurer.

Priscille Gagnon, 70, of Biddeford was indicted by a grand jury in York County Superior Court. She was charged with two counts of theft by unauthorized taking and two counts of misuse of entrusted property.

Gagnon resigned from the festival earlier this year for what she said were personal reasons.

The indictment offers few details, but says the thefts totaled more than $10,000 each from La Kermesse and the Western Oaks Condominium Association, for which Gagnon was treasurer.

Each theft charge is punishable by as much as 10 years in prison. Misuse of property carries a maximum sentence of 364 days in jail for each count.

Attempts to reach Gagnon were unsuccessful. A recording said her home phone number is no longer in service.

La Kermesse, a summer festival that began in 1982, honors the Biddeford area’s French-Canadian heritage. The festival’s vice president, Raymond Gagne, said last month that the investigation concerned a line of credit that La Kermesse had with a credit union in Biddeford.

In 2004, the festival took out a bank loan and paid off the line of credit. The credit union account was then supposed to be closed, but it never was, Gagne said.

Earlier this year, the credit union called Leo Bourgeault, who was treasurer at the time the account was supposed to have been closed, and told him that payments on the balance had fallen behind schedule.

Bourgeault then called Gagne because he knew the account was supposed to have been closed. Gagne called police, and the case was investigated by the state Attorney General’s Office.

Gagne said Gagnon was the only person with the festival who had a key to the La Kermesse post office box. That allowed her to remove the credit union’s statements so officials were unaware that the line of credit had never been closed, he said.

“We were hoping this wouldn’t come to this,” said Paul Gagne, the festival’s current treasurer, who is not related to Raymond Gagne.

Paul Gagne said La Kermesse officials are busy planning this year’s festival, which is critical to the future of La Kermesse.

La Kermesse was left with a $25,000 deficit from last year, because of poor weather and decreased attendance, the death of a regular donor and the loss of revenue when a ride operator shut down early.

The shortfall and the festival’s inability to post a bond to cover potential damage to St. Louis Field, the traditional home of the festival, led Biddeford officials to refuse to allow the festival on the field this year.

La Kermesse is now scheduled for three days instead of four, June 25-27, centered around the Biddeford Ice Arena. A parade, carnival rides and fireworks have been canceled.

“We’re going to focus on the festival and let the chips fall as they may,” Paul Gagne said.

He said the festival’s board will meet in August to decide if the festival is going to continue.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]