AUGUSTA – Over several weeks, state ethics regulators waded through hundreds of records filed by the gubernatorial campaign of John Richardson before denying his application for public campaign funds.
These documents became the basis of an investigation into the Brunswick Democrat’s campaign by the Attorney General’s Office, which ended last month with charges against four volunteer circulators for allegedly falsifying contribution records.
The documents and related correspondence were released by the state Sept. 21; in return, the Kennebec Journal dropped a lawsuit it had filed to obtain them, after the newspaper’s repeated requests under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act had been repeatedly denied by the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices.
Investigators focused on anomalies in one specific record — “Receipt and Acknowledgement” forms for qualifying contributions under Maine’s Clean Election Act — during the inquiry.
The forms attest that circulators collected $5 donations from registered voters, that the $5 came from personal funds, and that the circulator watched as the voter signed the R&A form.
The state maintains that the four Richardson circulators signed these forms knowing they did not receive the $5 contribution from the voter or were not present when the voter signed the form.
In some cases, the state claims circulators provided the $5 donation from their own personal funds or perhaps from funds provided by the campaign.
These alleged offenses occurred in March, in the run-up to the campaign’s April 1 deadline for submitting 3,250 contributions of $5 each to the ethics commission.
LORI A. LEVESQUE
The Richardson campaign submitted R&A forms submitted by a circulator in Fort Kent — later identified as Lori A. Levesque, 46, of Fort Kent — listing 155 qualifying contributions.
Record checkers contacted 66 people named as contributors: Twenty-eight said they never contributed $5, though their signatures were on the R&A form.
Aroostook County Sheriff’s Department Detective Daniel Richardson then investigated the claims, and his findings form the basis of the eight counts of unsworn falsification pending against Levesque in District Court in Fort Kent.
The charge says, “Levesque did make a false written statement which she did not believe to be true on a form or the receipt and acknowledgement of qualifying contributions in support of” Richardson’s request for public campaign funding.
It says the intent was to deceive the ethics commission staff.
A letter to Richardson from the commission says Levesque was paid for “campaign field work.”
The letter, sent April 22, adds, “It is unclear whether those funds were used to pay the face value of money orders submitted with these R&A forms.”
Levesque did not return two phone messages seeking comment. She received a summons from the sheriff’s office and is scheduled for a hearing Oct. 15 at 9 a.m., according to a clerk in Fort Kent District Court.
Under Maine statute, unsworn falsification, a misdemeanor, can carry a maximum jail sentence of 364 days and a fine of up to $2,000.
Richardson’s campaign also submitted 34 qualifying contributions from voters on forms signed by a circulator in Perry, later identified as Denise Altvater, 51, of Perry.
Commission staff contacted 17 of those people: Eight of them said they did not make a $5 contribution and were not asked to make one.
The same April 22 letter to Richardson says, “In a subsequent telephone interview with commission staff, the circulator admitted that someone else approached 15 of the people listed on these R&A forms, and that these people were not asked to make a contribution initially.”
The Perry circulator went back to collect the contributions from all but five, and submitted the forms anyway, the letter indicates.
No one answered the phone at the number Altvater provided on the receipt and acknowledgment form.
On Monday, Jamie Bissonette Lewey, director of the Healing Justice Program of the American Friends Service Committee, New England, wrote to the Kennebec Journal on Altvater’s behalf.
“Denise Altvater has worked for the American Friends Service Committee for nearly 20 years,” Lewey wrote. “She has proven herself to be both an honest and a dedicated worker for her people. I am honored to have worked alongside of her for many of these years.”
Detective Frank Gardner of the Maine Attorney General’s Office investigated, and the office filed three charges of unsworn falsification against Altvater in District Court in Calais. Three of the receipt and acknowledgment forms with Altvater’s signature were attached to the complaint.
Lewey said Altvater has retained attorney A.J. Grief to represent her in court. She is due in court on those charges at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to a court clerk.
Another circulator, William Moore, 46, of Brunswick, faces six charges of unsworn falsification.
An investigation into Receipt and Acknowledgement forms collected by him apparently was triggered after a woman from Topsham called the commission to say a circulator approached her for a qualifying contribution.
In the letter to Richardson, the commission staff said the woman signed the form but that “the circulator provided the money for the contribution.”
A criminal complaint against Moore, based on an investigation by Detective Margie Berkovich of the Maine Attorney General’s Office filed in West Bath District Court, includes a copy of an R&A form with six names of voters registered in Topsham.
Moore said last week he obtained 20 or fewer signatures himself and that others were obtained by a friend. Moore said he submitted and signed all the forms indicating he personally witnessed all the contributors’ signatures and collected their contributions.
“It was an honest mistake on my behalf,” Moore said. “I should have read the form before signing.”
Moore said he intends to fight the charges and hired lawyer Leonard Sharon to represent him.
“Although we have not yet received the discovery, it is clear from my initial investigation that William Moore did nothing with the intent to defraud anyone in the electoral system,” Sharon wrote.
“Any mistake made in filling out the proper forms was done inadvertently and not with the intent to defraud anyone. The misdemeanors with which he is charged require that Mr. Moore act ‘(W)ith the intent to deceive a public servant in the performance of his official duties.’ Mr. Moore never acted with any intent to deceive.”
A fourth person, Joseph Pickering, 54, of South Portland faces 16 counts of unsworn falsification. In the letter to Richardson, he is described as “the fourth circulator.”
The letter describes an allegation by a voter in southern Maine who said Richardson campaign workers told employees in their workplace parking lot that “if an employee wished to support (Richardson’s) campaign, one of the company owners would pay the $5 for the contribution.”
The voter signed but did not pay $5 from his own funds, the letter says.
“The R&A form listing this individual was signed by a fourth circulator for the campaign,” the letter to Richardson said. Berkovich investigated the complaints against Pickering.
There was no response to a telephone message left at Pickering’s home address.
Moore and Pickering are scheduled for hearings at 8:30 a.m. Nov. 2 in West Bath District Court.