Wednesday, March 12, 2014
By BETTY ADAMS Kennebec Journal
AUGUSTA - Over several weeks, state ethics regulators waded through hundreds of records filed by the gubernatorial campaign of John Richardson before denying his application for public campaign funds.
ON SEPT. 22, the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices surrendered its public records on the gubernatorial campaign of John Richardson to the Kennebec Journal, in order to settle a public access lawsuit brought by the newspaper.
TODAY’S STORY is the second of a two-part examination of the documents.
These documents became the basis of an investigation into the Brunswick Democrat's campaign by the Attorney General's Office, which ended last month with charges against four volunteer circulators for allegedly falsifying contribution records.
The documents and related correspondence were released by the state Sept. 21; in return, the Kennebec Journal dropped a lawsuit it had filed to obtain them, after the newspaper's repeated requests under Maine's Freedom of Access Act had been repeatedly denied by the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices.
Investigators focused on anomalies in one specific record -- "Receipt and Acknowledgement" forms for qualifying contributions under Maine's Clean Election Act -- during the inquiry.
The forms attest that circulators collected $5 donations from registered voters, that the $5 came from personal funds, and that the circulator watched as the voter signed the R&A form.
The state maintains that the four Richardson circulators signed these forms knowing they did not receive the $5 contribution from the voter or were not present when the voter signed the form.
In some cases, the state claims circulators provided the $5 donation from their own personal funds or perhaps from funds provided by the campaign.
These alleged offenses occurred in March, in the run-up to the campaign's April 1 deadline for submitting 3,250 contributions of $5 each to the ethics commission.
LORI A. LEVESQUE
The Richardson campaign submitted R&A forms submitted by a circulator in Fort Kent -- later identified as Lori A. Levesque, 46, of Fort Kent -- listing 155 qualifying contributions.
Record checkers contacted 66 people named as contributors: Twenty-eight said they never contributed $5, though their signatures were on the R&A form.
Aroostook County Sheriff's Department Detective Daniel Richardson then investigated the claims, and his findings form the basis of the eight counts of unsworn falsification pending against Levesque in District Court in Fort Kent.
The charge says, "Levesque did make a false written statement which she did not believe to be true on a form or the receipt and acknowledgement of qualifying contributions in support of" Richardson's request for public campaign funding.
It says the intent was to deceive the ethics commission staff.
A letter to Richardson from the commission says Levesque was paid for "campaign field work."
The letter, sent April 22, adds, "It is unclear whether those funds were used to pay the face value of money orders submitted with these R&A forms."
Levesque did not return two phone messages seeking comment. She received a summons from the sheriff's office and is scheduled for a hearing Oct. 15 at 9 a.m., according to a clerk in Fort Kent District Court.
Under Maine statute, unsworn falsification, a misdemeanor, can carry a maximum jail sentence of 364 days and a fine of up to $2,000.
Richardson's campaign also submitted 34 qualifying contributions from voters on forms signed by a circulator in Perry, later identified as Denise Altvater, 51, of Perry.
Commission staff contacted 17 of those people: Eight of them said they did not make a $5 contribution and were not asked to make one.
The same April 22 letter to Richardson says, "In a subsequent telephone interview with commission staff, the circulator admitted that someone else approached 15 of the people listed on these R&A forms, and that these people were not asked to make a contribution initially."
The Perry circulator went back to collect the contributions from all but five, and submitted the forms anyway, the letter indicates.
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