PORTLAND — The former head of the Maine Turnpike Authority was sentenced today to seven years in prison, with all but 3½ years suspended, for using agency funds to pay for a lavish lifestyle that included five-star hotels and fancy restaurants.

Justice Roland Cole also ordered Paul Violette, 56, to do 1,500 hours of community service within two years of his release from prison.

“I cannot say he or I were surprised,” Peter DeTroy, Violette’s attorney, said about the sentence, though they asked for incarceration of a year or less.

Violette pleaded guilty in February to stealing between $150,000 and $230,000 from the turnpike authority in the form of credit card purchases and gift cards for personal use from 2003 to 2010.

He will report to Cumberland County Jail on April 13, and then will likely be transported to the Maine Correctional Center in Windham to begin his sentence.

Violette, a former lobbyist and Democratic state legislator, was the executive director of the turnpike for 23 years. He resigned in March 2011.

Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin has called Violette’s theft “the biggest public corruption case” in decades.

“I owe the people of Maine profound apologies,” Violette said in letter to Cole filed Wednesday in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court.

“I can only hope that they will accept my misdeeds were mine alone and not reflective of … the Maine Turnpike Authority,” wrote Violette, who asked for a year or less in jail.

Robbin was seeking a five-year sentence for Violette — the maximum allowed under a plea agreement between Violette and the state.

In a sentencing memorandum filed Wednesday, DeTroy argued that Violette’s guilty plea, payment of restitution and promise for rehabilitation should be considered mitigating factors.

He requested a sentence of 30 months with all but 12 months or less suspended, along with probation a community service.

Robbin, on the other hand, noted in her sentencing memo that Violette initially lied about the purpose of the gift cards and deterred employees from reporting his expenses.

Violette’s thefts were exposed after an investigation by the state’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability at the request of the Legislature’s Government and Oversight Committee.

The turnpike authority sued Violette in July. Under a settlement reached in December, Violette agreed to pay back $155,000 — his entire net worth.