Thursday, April 17, 2014
PORTLAND — A South Portland man who collected campaign contributions for former Democratic gubernatorial candidate John G. Richardson of Brunswick pleaded guilty Monday to making false statements about the donations.
Joseph Pickering, 54, of Harbor View Avenue pleaded guilty to five counts of unsworn falsification -- a Class D misdemeanor -- in Cumberland County Superior Court.
Pickering had been charged with 16 counts of unsworn falsification, but under an agreement reached with the state Attorney General's Office he was allowed to plead to five counts.
Judge John O'Neil accepted the arrangement and ordered Pickering to complete 120 hours of community service.
Under what is called a deferred disposition, O'Neil said Pickering's criminal record will be erased if he completes the community service within a year.
If Pickering fails to do the community service in the time allotted, he could face a fine of up to $2,000 or 364 days in jail.
"This campaign did not train its volunteers very well," Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin told O'Neil.
"It would not be a model for other campaigns to follow."
Pickering is one of four former Richardson campaign volunteers accused by the state of falsifying Maine Clean Election Act contribution documents.
Their cases are in various stages of prosecution.
Maine law requires the circulator -- in this case Pickering -- to attest in writing that he collected $5 from each person and that they signed the "Qualifying contribution receipt and acknowledgement form" in his presence.
Robbin said that in at least five instances, Pickering did not receive donations from the persons who signed the form, but went ahead and signed the document anyway.
In order to qualify for $600,000 in taxpayer funds to compete in the June primary, Clean Election candidates such as Richardson had to raise $40,000 in seed money and receive $5 individual contributions from 3,250 registered voters by no later than April 1.
"What you are being required to do is to demonstrate that you have the organization in place that is worthy of receiving this public money," Robbin explained.
After being denied the funds last April, Richardson dropped out of what at the time would have been a five-candidate Democratic primary.
In a statement to his supporters, Richardson said that every one of his circulators had been given specific instructions on how to collect contributions.
Robbin said the investigation into Richardson volunteers began after several individuals who signed the contribution forms reported that they did not give $5 to the candidate's campaign.
They had been contacted by the state through a survey.
An investigation by Margie Berkovich, a detective with the Attorney General's Office, led to the charges being filed against Pickering and three other volunteers.
"On behalf of Joe Pickering, we are very happy that this has come to an end," William Childs, his lawyer, said after Monday's hearing.
Childs said the Clean Election Act is too complicated for ordinary campaign volunteers to understand, and needs to be reformed.
It was the first time that Pickering had collected donations on behalf of a political candidate.
Childs said his client repeated the same error because he had no prior knowledge that he was doing anything wrong.
"They were all mistakes," he said.
His client was not properly trained, Childs said. "This law is overly confusing and cumbersome," he said.
"I won't be volunteering (for a political campaign) again," Pickering said.
According to Robbin, another Richardson campaign worker, Denise Altvater of Perry, has already pleaded guilty to four counts of unsworn falsification. She was ordered to perform community service and is working with children on issues regarding substance abuse at the Passamaquoddy Tribe reservation.
Bill Moore, another defendant from Brunswick, has been charged with six counts of unsworn falsification.
He has not waived his right to trial, with jury selection set to begin Monday in Cumberland County Superior Court.
A fourth defendant, Lori A. Levesque of Fort Kent, has been charged with eight counts of unsworn falsification.
Her case is pending in Aroostook County.
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: