AUGUSTA – The husband of a former Democratic gubernatorial candidate admitted Thursday that he was one of the two men behind the Cutler Files website.

Thom Rhoads, who is married to Rosa Scarcelli, had previously denied he was a creator of the site, which criticized independent candidate Eliot Cutler. On Thursday, Rhoads admitted his role in a written statement.

“While I was not the author, creator or owner of the website, I assisted the person who was,” Rhoads said. “As a private citizen, I performed independent research on my own time and my own accord. … Much of the information I found eventually became a part of that website.”

Rhoads said his wife — who is considering future political bids — was not involved and didn’t know of his plans.

“I want to be clear — my wife had no involvement in this endeavor,” he wrote. “When she learned of it, she was extremely disappointed. She asked that I cooperate fully with the ethics commission investigation — which I have done — as well as come forward to the public — which I am doing today.”

Rhoads said he stands by the information on the website, which evolved from discussions he had with Dennis Bailey, Scarcelli’s political consultant in her primary campaign. Bailey acknowledged his involvement in a blog post Dec. 23.

Scarcelli said in an interview Thursday that she had known that her husband used the Internet to research Cutler, and some of her opponents in the June primary, but had not known what he did with the information.

She said she was consumed at the time by the campaign and her three Democratic opponents. “Thom’s extracurricular activities were completely irrelevant to me,” she said.

Scarcelli, who has hinted at a possible U.S. Senate run or another gubernatorial bid, said she hopes the public will understand that the actions of Bailey and her husband were separate from the way she ran her campaign.

“You can’t judge me on the actions of others,” she said.

Scarcelli finished third in the four-way Democratic primary on June 8.

On Thursday, the ethics commission finalized its vote from December that Bailey had violated state campaign finance laws in his involvement with the site. He was fined $200 for failing to list the names of those behind the Cutler Files.

The commission did not find that Rhoads violated state law. It never publicly identified him.

In October, Rhoads denied to The Portland Press Herald that he had significant involvement with the site.

“I can unequivocally state that I am not the author, owner or creator of the Cutler Files, nor did I post any information on it or any other website,” he said then in an e-mail response to a reporter’s question. “I have not been contacted or interviewed by the ethics commission. I don’t know why my name is being brought into this. It’s pure rumor.”

In an interview Thursday, Rhoads said his statement in October was “absolutely … an accurate statement” because Bailey created the site, edited the content and posted it to the Web.

“Obviously, it was not the entire story,” Rhoads said. “The statement was accurate, but it didn’t disclose the way I was involved.”

Rhoads’ public acknowledgment ends a political guessing game that began as soon as the site went live in August. In addition to calling Cutler “a phony and a fraud,” the site featured unflattering photos of him and tabloid-style language such as “you’ll find everything that Cutler doesn’t want you to know.”

Ted O’Meara, who was Cutler’s campaign manager, said Thursday that he’s glad the public now knows who was behind the website.

“I certainly hope this brings this whole sorry thing to a conclusion,” he said. “This will clearly serve as a warning to people that this won’t be tolerated, and hopefully we won’t see it again.”

Rhoads did most of the research that served as the basis for the site, although he said that when he began doing Google searches in the summer of 2009, it was to satisfy his own curiosity.

He said his interest was sparked when one of his neighbors, Dick Spencer, mentioned to him that Cutler was “moving back from China” to run for governor.

Spencer, a lawyer, later represented Cutler during the ethics commission proceedings on the Cutler Files.

Rhoads said he did the research off and on for months, using mostly Google to dig up news articles that mentioned Cutler.

After his wife lost in the Democratic primary, Rhoads said, he approached the Maine Democratic Party and the campaign of Democrat Libby Mitchell to ask whether they would buy the information from him.

According to documents released by the ethics commission, Rhoads was asking $30,000 for his research. Rhoads said Thursday that he didn’t remember the exact amount he was seeking but it was irrelevant because neither the party nor the Mitchell campaign was interested.

“Then it sat on the shelf for several more weeks before Dennis and I hatched this idea of doing a website,” he said.

Rhoads said the men were frustrated that the media hadn’t done more to challenge statements made by Cutler. They wanted to get information out to the public, but didn’t put their names on the website because they felt their own political affiliations would take the focus away from the content.

“(My wife) didn’t know about it until well after it went up,” Rhoads said. “She did ask me about it, and I told her what my involvement was.”

Scarcelli said she found out about the site shortly after Labor Day, when a friend told her about it. She glanced at the site and immediately had a “sneaking suspicion” about who might be behind it.

She said she confronted her husband and Bailey.

“I asked them to take it down, and obviously it didn’t happen,” she said.

In a story published in October by MaineToday Media, Scarcelli said neither she nor her husband had anything to do with the site, and she “hadn’t even looked at the website.”

Within days after the site went live, on Aug. 30, the Cutler campaign filed a complaint with the ethics commission alleging that, because the site advocated for the defeat of Cutler, state law required a disclosure to tell the public who was behind the information.

The commission’s staff protected the identities of Bailey and Rhoads throughout the investigation because their attorney argued that the men had a First Amendment right to anonymous political speech.

Patsy Wiggins, who was Scarcelli’s campaign manager, backed Scarcelli’s assertion that the campaign was not involved with the website.

“There was never any discussion about the Cutler Files or anything to do with Cutler,” she said. “We had a primary race we were trying to win.”

In her prepared statement, Scarcelli wrote that she wished she could have talked publicly about the issue sooner, but she didn’t want to interfere in the ethics investigation. She wrote that she was “pleased” that her husband was not found to have violated state law.

“And while I disapprove of his involvement and make no excuses for his actions, I love my husband and I stand firmly beside him,” she wrote.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Susan Cover can be contact at 620-7015 or at:

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