SKOWHEGAN — Former Anson Tax Collector Claudia Viles was found guilty Wednesday of stealing more than $500,000 from the town, a conviction that the prosecutor says puts the 66-year-old “in a league of her own” among municipal theft cases in Maine.

Viles was convicted of stealing $500,948 in excise taxes over several years. Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin, who prosecuted the case, said she believes it is the largest theft of municipal funds she has ever prosecuted.

The jury deliberated about two hours Wednesday before returning with guilty verdicts on one class B felony theft, six counts of failure to pay Maine state income taxes, five counts of failure to make and file income tax returns and tampering with public records.

“Claudia Viles apparently believed she was above the law,” Robbin said in her closing argument Wednesday morning before Justice Robert Mullen in Somerset County Superior Court. “She enriched herself by diverting tax paid as excise tax to the town of Anson.”

Viles, who sat near the front of the courtroom with her attorney, Walter McKee, showed no emotion as the verdicts were announced. McKee, who argued his client was unfairly singled out when others could have been responsible, said after the verdict that he anticipates filing an appeal.

“We thought there was significant reasonable doubt,” he said outside the courthouse, “especially as related to the theft charge and with the absence of any evidence of where that $500,000 went. There’s nothing we can do now, but I do anticipate an appeal.”

Viles, who was elected to the job for 42 years in a row, was the only person responsible for collecting excise taxes – paid on motor vehicle registrations – in the town of about 2,500 residents. Viles was also responsible for reconciling the amount of money collected with bank deposits and filling out treasurer’s receipts, according to employees who testified at trial.

A sentencing date has not been set. Class B theft is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000. The other charges are class D misdemeanors punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Viles has been free on $10,000 unsecured bail since her September arraignment and those conditions were not changed Wednesday.

After the verdict was read, she left with her husband, Glenn Viles, and declined to comment. Anson Board of Selectmen Chairman Arnold Luce did not respond to a call seeking comment Wednesday afternoon.

The case has divided residents and town officials since it was first revealed at the March 8, 2015, annual town meeting that an auditor’s report had discovered that $77,000 was missing from the town’s accounts for that year. Subsequent audits found hundreds of thousands of dollars was missing from other years. To date, the town has recovered about $250,000 through an insurance settlement.

Anson Administrative Assistant Tammy Murray, who was in the courtroom, said Wednesday she didn’t know whether the town would recover any additional funds. She declined to comment when asked whether she believes Viles was stealing from the town before 2009, the earliest year that falls within the statute of limitations.

“We are asking for restitution, so I think that may come out at the sentencing,” Murray said.

Robbin had referred to Viles on Monday as “sort of a free-range chicken” – she wasn’t supervised and there was no oversight of the money she was collecting. Over the course of two days the court heard from about a dozen witnesses – all called by the prosecution – including current and former town employees.

“As the elected tax collector, Claudia Viles would have been the first person to notice if cash was missing from the excise tax accounts,” Robbin said in closing arguments. “She did, and she said nothing because she was the one pocketing the money.”

Robbin walked the jury through the findings of auditor Richard Emerson, who had documented years of discrepancies in Viles’ bookkeeping. Robbin said Viles manipulated adding machine tapes to produce a total on her receipts that was different from what she had collected, and kept the difference.

When Viles was on vacation, Anson residents could register their vehicles in other towns that would then send the excise tax collected to Viles. Robbin said Viles would deposit the money, but never filed the registrations, essentially using the reimbursements to cover up for money she had taken.

McKee, however, said in his closing argument that Viles didn’t steal the money and deserved an apology.

He pointed to a lack of security at the Town Office, including a 2006 burglary, a lack of surveillance and keys that easily could be reproduced or circulated around town as evidence that someone other than Viles could have taken the cash.

“There were a number of people who were in and out of that Town Office on a regular basis who had the opportunity and ability to take that money,” McKee said after the trial. “I’m not going to name names. I’m not going to do that.”

McKee admitted there were mistakes in Viles’ bookkeeping records, but said they were just that – mistakes.

“Clearly there are errors in these documents,” he said referring to the pink and green copies of motor vehicle registrations filled out by Viles and her attached adding machine tapes. “The state calls it theft; other people might call it mistakes were made in a significant number of documents.”

McKee also said the state failed to explain what became of the missing money. But Robbin said determining where the money went was not required to prove Viles stole it.

“People steal money to spend it,” she said. “And when you spend cash, there often is no paper trail.”

After the verdict, Robbin said that the state had some evidence not presented at trial about where the money might have gone – including a second residence, improvements to the Viles’ home, a large gun collection and a family to support. Robbin said she did not present that evidence because McKee objected, saying the state had no way of proving when certain items were bought, and the judge agreed.

In April 2015, state police seized $58,500 in cash from a safe in Viles’ home, money that McKee has maintained belonged to her and had been withdrawn after Viles cashed her largest annual check from the town.

The town also has filed a lawsuit against Viles, accusing her of misappropriating $438,712 from 2011 to September 2014. The town has not audited records before 2010 because of the expense and uncertainty over whether the money would be recovered, according to Murray, the Anson administrative assistant.

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