SKOWHEGAN — A former legal secretary and front desk clerk at the Somerset County district attorney’s office is under investigation by the Maine State Police Major Crimes Unit in the alleged theft of cash from fines, fees and restitution paid by defendants.

The alleged actions by Julie Smith, an employee since 2009 who since has resigned, were first brought to the attention of the district attorney’s office manager in Skowhegan in October, authorities said.

District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said the investigation is ongoing and that no charges have been brought against Smith, whose husband is Mike Smith, the Somerset County emergency management director and county communications director.

Meanwhile, Maloney, district attorney for Somerset and Kennebec counties, disclosed that her recent decision to no longer accept cash or personal checks for restitution, fines and fees was made in part because of the Smith investigation. Earlier this week, Maloney said the reason behind the no-cash policy was to make the workplace safer in the Kennebec County Courthouse.

“One of the things I looked at when I started going through every single job and how it’s done and what we are doing — this case combined with looking at the restitution position and the program in general convinced me that, not only do we not have enough checks and balances, but that it was impossible for me to ever have enough checks and balances without a dramatic increase in personnel,” Maloney said.

Maloney said her offices need more than one person to check the work of other people in order to have a secure policy for handling money, which would be expensive.

“So the inexpensive way of making sure there’s no misappropriation of funds is to not accept cash,” she said.

A search warrant for Smith’s home and automobiles later was obtained from the court by Detective Herbert Leighton, commander of the State Police Evidence Response Team.

The investigation began with the apparent loss of $300 in supervision fees in October, according to court documents. A subsequent audit determined that receipt books were missing. Only one active receipt book was found in the Somerset office dating back to July, according to papers filed in Skowhegan District Court.

A comparison of receipts from that book against bank deposit ledgers and the Quick Books computer accounting programs determined that a minimum of $2,100 was unaccounted for since late July, according to the affidavit for a search warrant.

The office manager, Lisa Davis, told police that receipt books that recorded transactions prior to July 23 were missing, and that made it difficult to determine what additional money may be unaccounted for, according to the court documents.

The warrant for a search carried out by Leighton in October included the Smiths’ home on Blackwell Hill in Madison, three motor vehicles registered to Julie and Mike Smith, Julie Smith’s cellphone and any bags, purses or containers in Smith’s possession. An inventory of property taken in the search included records from Franklin Savings Bank, Bangor Savings Bank, all receipts, papers and sticky notes used to identify defendants’ payments, planner books, check books, deposit slips, office payment receipts, account cards, computer data and financial records.

Attempts to reach Julie Smith by the cellphone number listed on the search warrant were unsuccessful Wednesday. Mike Smith would also not comment on the investigation.

Julie Smith’s lawyer, Woody Hanstein of Farmington, would not comment when reached Wednesday.

DA AS VICTIM

Maloney said she has turned the case over to state police to avoid any conflict of interest.

“It has been interesting for me to see the criminal justice system as a victim,” she said Wednesday. “As I turned the case over to the state police (and the Office of the Maine Attorney General), I don’t have any details as to the status of the investigation. While this is necessary, I am experiencing personally how difficult it is for victims to have to wait for information.”

Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin, from the financial crimes division, will be the prosecutor if charges are filed. Robbin said Wednesday she recently has been assigned the case and has not seen the file.

“The decision will be made by the attorney general’s office whether or not to prosecute,” Maloney said. “They have people skilled in criminal prosecution who can prosecute this type of crime. It would be a conflict for the people in my office to bring a case against someone they used to work with.”

Leighton, the primary investigator, said it has taken more than three months to conduct the investigation because of the many details that need to be examined.

“We need to ascertain what has been stolen — how much has been stolen,” he said. “In order to do that, you need expertise, an auditor. It takes time,” he said. “You have a theft from the DA’s office, — you have discrepancies — you need to have an auditor involved in that. You’ve got multiple employees, you’ve got a lot going on, so we want to be methodical about it. We want to make sure that we know, first of all, what was stolen.”

Leighton said since October more information has come to light, but he would not discuss those details unless and until criminal charges are brought against Smith.

QUESTIONS RAISED

The investigation into missing money at the Somerset County district attorney’s office began with one event in October, according to the court affidavit — $300 in $100 bills collected as supervision fees in a deferred disposition case.

The money was turned over to Julie Smith by Laurie Porter, administrative assistant at the district attorney’s office, according to the court documents.

According to the affidavit, Porter told police that Smith’s actions caught her attention when Smith did not follow protocol in filing the money. Smith allegedly did not paper-clip the money together to prevent the bills getting mixed with other funds and did not place a sticky note on the money indicating who paid and how much.

Porter later noticed that the three $100 bills were not where they were supposed to be, there was no sticky note indicating a transaction and no other written record of the transaction, which had been entered into the office’s Excel computer spreadsheet program.

When Smith produced the $300 from an area near the bottom of her desk, the cash included a $100 bill, two $50 bills and five $20 bills — not the three $100 bills originally submitted as the fee payment, the court documents said.

Court records indicate the search warrant was obtained and executed at Smith’s home a few days later.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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Twitter: @Doug_Harlow