ALFRED — The Maine Warden Service ran an undercover operation in York County in 2014 that allegedly used the same controversial practices as an operation in Allagash, where an agent is accused of drinking and distributing large amounts of alcohol as he tried to induce hunters to violate state game laws.

The undercover warden, William Livezey, has now been accused by the targets of three separate investigations of drinking excessively in their presence, plying suspected scofflaw hunters with alcohol before urging them to commit crimes – such as driving deer, shooting deer out of season and carrying a loaded gun in a car – and committing some of the offenses himself for which the subjects of his investigations were later prosecuted. Most of the subjects were convicted.

In the York County case, more than 40 people pleaded guilty to a variety of game law violations. But a judge dismissed the charges against one of the hunters in February after ruling that the prosecution’s attempt to shield Livezey’s name from the public was “inexplicable” and because the prosecution refused to reveal notes from Livezey’s investigation.

That ruling on Livezey’s undercover activities followed a 2006 decision by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in an appeal accusing Livezey of misconduct in a separate case. The court ruled that Livezey’s behavior in an Oxford County undercover operation might have been “repugnant,” but “not so outrageous” that all the criminal charges against the man targeted in that investigation should be dismissed.

Richard Sanborn Sr. of Parsonsfield, one of the hunters who pleaded guilty in the York County case, says Livezey drank regularly and sometimes heavily with many of those who were convicted.

“Night after night he would sit here and drink in front of me all night long,” Sanborn said. “There would be 6 or 7 of us guys setting here and he would be partying all night long. He always uses this theory that he dumps out his alcohol and all this, but that’s the biggest bunch of crap I’ve ever seen.”

Sanborn, a logger who began a 22-day jail sentence for his offenses Friday, says he watched across the table as Livezey drank four beers in one sitting at a Cornish restaurant, then drove off in his truck.

“He would go down to guys’ houses and get them drunk and then get them to go night hunting with him,” he said.

The warden service’s undercover operations were first detailed in a Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram investigation published Sunday. “North Woods Lawless” described Livezey’s two-year undercover operation in the northern Maine town of Allagash that culminated in 2014 with a dramatic, large-scale raid that law enforcement officers made against targeted hunters and was filmed for the “North Woods Law” reality TV series.

Since the story about the Allagash investigation was published, the warden service has disputed the Press Herald/Telegram’s findings. Gov. Paul LePage also has weighed in, calling it “one of the most outrageous examples of the Portland Press Herald’s complete and total lack of journalistic principles.”

ALCOHOL A PART OF INVESTIGATIONS

After the Allagash story was published, Sanborn and two others who were targeted in the York County case in 2013 and 2014 contacted the newspaper to relate their experiences with the warden service investigation.

The head of the warden service, Col. Joel Wilkinson, did not return a phone message seeking comment for this story. Livezey did not respond to requests for an interview for Sunday’s story sent by both email and U.S. mail, and the warden service has said he will not answer any questions.

Adrienne Bennett, a spokeswoman for LePage, declined to comment further on Thursday.

At the time of Sunday’s publication, details about Livezey’s involvement in the York County case had received little attention. The two-year investigation in Parsonsfield and neighboring towns on the New Hampshire border netted more than 40 people on several criminal offenses, including illegal hunting, trespassing and firearms charges.

The three York County subjects said that Livezey regularly drank to excess, drove after drinking alcohol, brought and gave people alcohol on multiple occasions, and was the one most eager to break the law.

None of the three had prior convictions for violating state game laws, although one was charged with an assault in 2009 and paid a $300 fine.

Since publication of the story Sunday, several legislators have called for an investigation of the warden service. LePage himself called for an investigation during a radio broadcast Tuesday in which he also sought to discredit the newspaper’s article.

In its 2,800-word rebuttal of the Allagash article, the warden service said Livezey was permitted to violate game laws himself in order to maintain his cover and keep the investigation going. He drank minimal amounts of alcohol to ingratiate himself with the group of suspects, but was never intoxicated and used various techniques to make it appear that he was drinking, the service said.

Richard E. Day, 67, a civil engineer from Porter, is one of the three targets of the York County operation who contacted the Press Herald after publication of the Allagash story.

He said he and a cousin were among the subjects of the York County investigation, which closely resembled the Allagash case. “I believe they use the same format for every investigation they’ve done,” he said.

Day said he witnessed Livezey – who, just as in Allagash, was posing as Pennsylvania hunter Bill Fried – become intoxicated on multiple occasions, including one in which he was so drunk he fell into a garbage can before insisting on getting in his car and driving to his hotel miles away.

“He shouldn’t have been driving,” said Day, who says he doesn’t drink himself. “No question about it; he was above the legal limit.” Day also said he’d witnessed Livezey buy a 12-pack of beer and drink it with targets.

If true, such actions would be a violation of the department’s prior policies for undercover investigations, which prohibit their agents from giving alcohol to anyone other than another agent. The department has refused to share an unredacted copy of its current policy with the Press Herald/Telegram, declaring the guidelines a secret.

REGRETS FOR PLEADING GUILTY

Day said 70 wardens made a spectacular raid on homes in Porter, Parsonsfield, Hiram and other towns on March 11, 2015. Day regrets accepting a plea bargain under which he pleaded guilty to one count of driving deer and was fined $500. He said that under Maine law, any party of more than three hunters can be declared to be running deer, even if they are not doing so, and he was indeed hunting in a larger group that included Livezey.

Sanborn was initially charged with 31 hunting-related counts and ultimately took a plea bargain last month in which he was convicted of 10 charges. He also was fined $7,420.

Sanborn regrets having acquiesced to pressure from his lawyers to accept a plea bargain, since the one person who refused to do so – Trevor Sanborn, a distant cousin – had all his charges dismissed.

Trevor Sanborn, of East Parsonsfield, said he became acquainted with Livezey through another cousin, Richard Sanborn Jr., after Livezey had gone bear hunting with his relatives.

“He seemed like a good old boy, but he was a weasel,” Trevor Sanborn said of Livezey. “He would just get people to do things.”

Trevor Sanborn said he had never bear hunted with Livezey, but had gone deer hunting with him, some friends and relatives. Some of the dismissed charges against him were for driving deer so that Livezey could shoot them.

He said Livezey would buy beer for the group and then get them to go out at night. Livezey would set himself up in a clearing with a rifle, Sanborn said, and the others in the group could make noise in the woods to drive deer toward him.

“He’d get them guys all liquored up and say, ‘Let’s go spot some deer and shoot a few,’ ” Trevor Sanborn said. “They had never done that before.”

He also reiterated Day’s statement that Livezey was so drunk one night that he fell into a garbage can and then drove off. He said Livezey would not secretly dump his alcoholic drinks out.

“He didn’t dump it out; he dumped it down his throat,” Sanborn said. “I can tell the difference between a drunk person and a sober person. And then he would just take off to his hotel.”

CREDIBILITY OF THE OPERATIVE

Sanborn, who works several part-time jobs to make a living and races cars on the side, said some of those charged in the York County case couldn’t afford to fight the charges and pleaded guilty to misdemeanors to put the case behind them.

The prosecution in the York County case shielded Livezey’s identity for more than nine months after the raid until a judge last December ordered his identity to be released in Trevor Sanborn’s case.

“The state’s long delay in providing defendant with the name of the secret law enforcement operative is inexplicable,” Judge Michael Cantara wrote in a Feb. 22 ruling in York County Superior Court in Alfred. Cantara called the prosecution’s refusal to provide details of Livezey’s investigation “troubling” and dismissed all charges against Sanborn.

The prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan, pointed to the guilty pleas in the case.

“In any undercover operative case, it’s going to rest on the credibility of the operative,” McGettigan said.

One defendant’s case remains pending and is tentatively scheduled for trial on Monday. That defendant, Michael Siracusa Jr., is accused of falsifying sworn information, criminal trespassing, unlawful possession of moose, false registration of moose and two counts of carrying a loaded firearm or crossbow in a motor vehicle.

McGettigan said the York County case was different from the Allagash case because it involved substantially more litigation. Many of the defendants in the York County case were relatives and family members, leading them to communicate and coordinate their defenses, she said.

“We don’t have as many of these kinds of cases because people don’t generally hunt in York County. They go north to hunt,” McGettigan said.

SIMILARITIES IN INVESTIGATIONS

Trevor Sanborn’s attorney, William Ashe, spent months filing motions with the court after his client was charged last year, first seeking to force the prosecution to reveal the name of the undercover operative, and then to force the prosecution to release any notes and details the operative made during the course of the investigation.

After the prosecution revealed Livezey’s identity, Ashe realized he was the same agent from an Oxford County investigation in 2003 and 2004 into licensed Maine Guide Lawrence Perry of Fryeburg in 2003 and 2004.

“The investigations are entirely unrelated, but three things can’t be argued: Each investigation came to light because it was exposed through the legal system or the press, each investigation has strikingly consistent allegations of the same types of misconduct, and finally, warden investigator William Livezey was the undercover operative in all three investigations,” Ashe said Thursday. “I think the question now is really up to the warden service: Are they willing to accept that the public has a right to question their conduct through elected officials, or do we continue with a policy of secrecy, deny and make counter-accusations, press releases and a television show that appeals to people that do not live in Maine?”

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled in an appeal of Perry’s case in 2006 that Livezey’s conduct did not cross the line into criminal behavior, although he drank alcohol with targets of his investigation and incited them to break the law, and did not qualify as entrapment.

“We acknowledged that there may be cases in which government officers are so enmeshed in the criminal activity that the prosecution of another participant in that activity might be repugnant to our concept of criminal justice,” the Supreme Judicial Court wrote in the ruling. But it added, “We are not convinced that the warden’s conduct was so outrageous that due process requires a dismissal of all charges.”

Perry, who had no prior criminal record, was initially charged with 32 offenses related to bear, deer and fox, but after a jury trial he was convicted on nine of those charges.

The state’s high court upheld six of the nine convictions, for charges including hunting bear with dogs and hunting out of season.

Perry’s attorney, William Maselli, said Tuesday that it’s worth noting that Perry was sentenced to the minimum mandatory sentence on the charges of two days in jail and no more.

“The warden service was a little out of control in that case. The undercover operative was drinking with people, setting up crimes, getting underage people involved,” Maselli said. “It was a really troubling undercover operation. It’s a surprise to hear it’s still going on.”

Staff Writer Colin Woodard contributed to this report.