AUGUSTA – The Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee has subpoenaed Paul Violette, former executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority, to testify before the panel on April 15.

Violette’s attorney, Peter DeTroy, said Friday that Violette will most likely assert his constitutional right against self-incrimination and refuse to answer questions that imply he was involved in criminal conduct.

Violette, who lives in Portland, was executive director of the turnpike authority for 23 years. He resigned last month amid questions about the authority’s spending practices, including donations to groups with no direct link to its mission and its failure to keep records of gift certificates it purchased and gave to various groups.

Lawmakers are focusing their inquiry on the gift cards.

Violette told the Legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation and Governmental Accountability that the authority spent $157,000 on the gift cards, and that all of the gift cards were donated.

Lawmakers have determined that neither of those assertions is entirely true, said Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, a co-chair of the Government Oversight Committee. He declined to elaborate on what his committee has found.

“We want to ask Mr. Violette and others some questions to determine where the money went,” Katz said. “The response we have had to date from the turnpike authority has been far less than completely satisfactory.”

Gerard Conley Sr., chairman of the turnpike authority’s board of directors, and Lucien Gosselin, the board’s vice chairman, plan to testify on April 15. Conley has said that he was never informed about the donations or the gift cards.

Several senior turnpike authority staff members also plan to testify, including the chief financial officer and the chief operating officer, said the authority’s spokesman, Scott Tompkins.

The authority’s staff “welcomes the opportunity to appear before the committee and answer any lingering questions,” Tompkins said.

The Government Oversight Committee voted 9-1 last week to subpoena Violette if he refused to testify before the committee voluntarily. The panel gave him a March 31 deadline to respond.

DeTroy, a Portland-based attorney, informed lawmakers this week that Violette would not voluntarily offer testimony.

Katz said Friday that the subpoena was mailed on Thursday to DeTroy, who has agreed to accept it on Violette’s behalf.

Rep. Andrea Boland, D-Sanford, the only member of the Government Oversight Committee who voted against issuing a subpoena, said she was surprised to learn that it had been issued. She said she had believed that Violette would appear before the committee voluntarily.

“I have really known him to be an honorable man,” she said. “That was my objection to assuming that a summons would be required.”

She said the program evaluation office, which reviewed the turnpike authority and issued a report in January, found that the authority is well operated. That’s why it has a favorable bond rating and can borrow money at low interest rates, she said.

In the past, when the office identified problems, agencies were given a chance to correct them. Violette was never given a chance, she said.

“Times have changed,” she said. “We’ve got a different style of government than I have been accustomed to. I feel sorry that things have gone the way they have.”

Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York, co-chaired the Government Oversight Committee last year, when it instructed the program evaluation office to review the turnpike authority. She defended the process on Friday.

She noted that the turnpike authority, a quasi-state agency, has already issued new policies to address the problems cited in the report.

Hill said she will be disappointed if Violette does not testify. She said it would be the first time anyone has refused to testify before the committee. She said the issues at hand are mismanagement, she said, not criminal activity.

DeTroy said he will notify lawmakers if Violette plans to invoke his right against self-incrimination.

There is no need for the committee to require Violette to attend if he will not say anything of substance, DeTroy said, but he expects lawmakers will demand his client’s presence anyway.

“There is obviously a political undercurrent here,” he said.

Violette, a Democrat, was the Senate majority leader in 1985 and 1986, and several turnpike authority board members have strong ties to the Democratic Party.

The authority’s new interim acting director, Peter Mills, is a Republican.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 699-6261 or at:

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