A five-month investigation that revealed how sophisticated financiers used an investment program to wring millions of dollars in risk-free returns at taxpayer expense has been named a finalist for the prestigious Loeb Award.

Finalists for the Gerald Loeb Awards, considered the Pulitzer Prizes of business journalism, were announced Thursday. More than 490 entries were submitted for consideration.

The Press Herald series, “Payday at the Mill” by Whit Richardson, started with a simple question: How could a mill that had just landed $40 million in investments and tax breaks shut down a year later? That question launched the investigation into the complex world of New Market tax credits in the wake of the bankruptcy and closure of the Great Northern Paper mill in East Millinocket.

Following publication of the series, state legislators quickly submitted bills to reform the tax credit program, and six months after the series was published, the federal government issued new guidelines prohibiting New Market tax credits from being used to pay off old debt and other questionable practices. The agency that administers the program, the Finance Authority of Maine, also revised its rules to ensure greater accountability by future recipients of the tax credits.

Political reporters Steve Mistler and Kevin Miller contributed to the continuing coverage of the tax credit program as it underwent legislative scrutiny.

The Loeb Awards were established in 1957 by the late Gerald Loeb, a founding partner of E.F. Hutton. His intention was to encourage reporting on business and finance that would inform and protect the private investor and the general public.

Winners will be announced in June.

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