April 6, 2012

LePage signs 'Violette Bill' to deter corrupton

By John Richardson jrichardson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage signed a new pension forfeiture law today, saying Maine now has a stronger deterrent against corruption by public officials.

"An Act To Allow Forfeiture of Maine Public Employees Retirement System Benefits for Persons Convicted of Certain Crimes" had been known as the "Violette Bill" because it was introduced in response to the theft of public funds by  former Maine Turnpike Executive Director Paul Violette.

The new law will not affect Violette, but would apply to future cases. Violette will keep his $5,288.51-per-month state pension, although he has paid $155,000 in restitution that was partly based on his future retirement income.

Unlike at least 20 other states, Maine did not have a pension forfeiture law in place for such cases until now.

The law gives the courts authority to order the forfeiture of state pension benefits if a public employee or official is convicted of a Class C or greater crime in connection with the job.

The law also says retirement benefits may be tapped to pay court-ordered restitution for economic losses related to such crimes.

Rep. Les Fossel, R-Alna, introduced the bill and attended a brief signing ceremony in the governor's Cabinet Room.

"Paul (Violette) is my friend," Fossel said today. "The man also did good things."

Fossel said the law gives discretion to the courts, so that benefits aren't automatically cut off to spouses or children. "You want to protect the innocent and hold accountable those who are guilty," he said.

LePage praised the new law. "I look at it as a very strong deterrent."

LePage said he does not know Violette, who was sentenced to 3½ years in prison.

"It was unfortunate what happened to Mr. Violette. Temptation got to him," LePage said. "I'm told by my attorney it is a fair sentence."

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