AUGUSTA – Dan Demeritt, Gov. Paul LePage’s director of communications and legislative affairs, resigned Saturday following revelations that five properties he owns in the Augusta area are in foreclosure.
One of the structures, a four-unit apartment building, was destroyed April 9 by a fire determined to be arson. No one has been charged, but court records show that a man who climbed to safety from a second-story apartment had threatened moments earlier to burn down the building.
Savings Bank of Maine is seeking default judgments on four of the properties owned by Demeritt, a small-business owner who lives in Sidney.
Demeritt said in a release Saturday he is giving up his administration post, which pays him more than $81,000 a year, because he “has several unresolved business issues that need his immediate and direct attention.”
“I am resigning from governor LePage’s staff to attend to these matters,” Demeritt said in the news release. “I wish the governor and his staff complete success.”
The release from LePage’s press secretary, Adrienne Bennett, said LePage and his staff “wish Mr. Demeritt the best with his future endeavors.” She said the resignation takes effect immediately.
Bennett said the governor had nothing more to say now about the resignation or who would be chosen to fill the position.
“We’re not prepared to release any comment on that,” Bennett said.
Demeritt said in a telephone interview Saturday that the governor supports his decision.
“I had a great talk with the governor, and he understands my challenges and supported my decision to put my full focus on getting things resolved,” Demeritt said. “I have tenants and employees concerned about what comes next.”
On Saturday, Demeritt planned to visit with his tenants to “work through things.”
House Speaker Robert Nutting said he has known Demeritt and his family both as State House colleagues and constituents. Nutting said the Demeritts “are good people” and that he knows they are more than capable of “dealing with whatever challenges life may throw them.”
“I thank Dan for his service to the state of Maine and hope the best for him and his family,” Nutting said Saturday. “I appreciate the efforts he made to help Gov. LePage get this state back on track and wish him luck in his future endeavors.”
House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono, said Demeritt has had one of the toughest jobs since day one of the LePage administration.
“We wish his family all the best during this very difficult time,” Cain said.
The foreclosures, filed in Kennebec County Superior Court, include properties at 11 Kinderhook and 23 and 31 Windsor streets in Randolph and a two-family home at 34 North St., Augusta.
The four-unit building at 23 Windsor St. was the one destroyed by fire, which the state Fire Marshal’s Office determined to be a case of arson.
The man who climbed to safety, Andrew St. Amand, 33, suffered cuts and was taken to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston for treatment.
While at the hospital, St. Amand was charged with domestic violence assault related to an incident with his girlfriend, a tenant, just before the fire, said Sgt. Joel Davis of the state Fire Marshal’s Office.
A judge subsequently set St. Amand’s bail at $1,000 cash, with conditions that he have no contact with the alleged victim.
A court affidavit by State Fire Marshal’s Office investigator Edward H. Hastings IV said the couple had been arguing all day. Hastings said St. Amand was observed at the scene yelling at his girlfriend, who was leaving: “I’ll have this place burned before you get back.”
Savings Bank of Maine also has filed foreclosure action to take the 611 Civic Center Drive property in Augusta, where Demeritt operates Pizza Connection.
Records at the city assessor’s office show unpaid taxes from two years on that property total $6,217.50. The bank also obtained a default judgment in Augusta District Court last week on equipment at that site.
Besides the back taxes owed to the city of Augusta, Demeritt also has liens from unpaid sewer bills on the properties subject to the foreclosure action and faces a lien on property at 11 School St. in Augusta that is not in foreclosure.
Demeritt — a graduate of Colby College who holds a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Southern Maine — links his unpaid taxes, bills and mortgages to business difficulties that began almost 2½ years ago, when he said he leveraged the value of his properties to buy other properties.
He was forced to close a Pizza Connection on Bangor Street after sales dropped off. Demeritt said he never expected a 45 percent drop in pizza sales and that this wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for one of the worst recessions in decades.