LITCHFIELD FAIR PRESIDENT CHARLIE SMITH, left, attorney Kevin Sullivan and Vice President Richard Brown assert Wednesday that the Litchfield Farmers’ Club is missing $80,000 that should be in its accounts at this time of year. The agricultural exhibition fair, which is scheduled to run Sept. 7-9 and has been existence for 150 years, is broke, Smith said from the Pulling Ring in Litchfield. ANDY MOLLOY / KENNEBEC JOURNAL

LITCHFIELD FAIR PRESIDENT CHARLIE SMITH, left, attorney Kevin Sullivan and Vice President Richard Brown assert Wednesday that the Litchfield Farmers’ Club is missing $80,000 that should be in its accounts at this time of year. The agricultural exhibition fair, which is scheduled to run Sept. 7-9 and has been existence for 150 years, is broke, Smith said from the Pulling Ring in Litchfield. ANDY MOLLOY / KENNEBEC JOURNAL

LITCHFIELD

The Litchfield Farmers’ Club says it is broke, and it’s accusing its former treasurer of draining $80,000 from the organization’s bank account just weeks before the group is scheduled to hold the Litchfield Fair.

“As many of you have heard, the Litchfield Farmers’ Club bank accounts have been drained by our treasurer,” the group said in a message posted on the fair’s Facebook page Wednesday night that also affirmed the club’s determination to go ahead with the annual agricultural exhibition as planned Sept. 7-9.

The club did not name the treasurer, and the person listed as the treasurer on the fair’s website did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

Detective John Bourque of the Kennebec County Sheriff ’s Office said Wednesday that the club’s finances are being investigated, but no one has been charged. He declined to provide details of the investigation.

The Litchfield Farmers’ Club held an emergency meeting Tuesday night to address the crisis affecting the fair, which was first held in 1858. On Wednesday, it said the club’s treasurer, who has been in place since 2014, has resigned, and the club officers also voted to fire him. An interim treasurer was appointed as part of the club’s efforts to make sure the fair is held in a little more than two weeks.

The president and first vice president of the Litchfield Farmers’ Club, which operates the fair and fairgrounds, have said its treasury is down to $1,000 or less, meaning more than $80,000 is missing.

Richard Brown, the first vice president, said the club had awarded a $500 agricultural and life science scholarship each year from the interest on a $10,000 designated account.

“It’s down to 61 cents,” he said.

Charlie Smith, the president, said the sheriff ’s office had contacted him last week after Camden National Bank noticed some suspicious activity in the fair accounts.

Smith, who has been club president since 2008, said he went to the bank last week and was provided with statements for the past year.

“I viewed them that evening and confirmed that there were things out of the ordinary, and I notified the other officers,” he said. “We had treasurer’s reports every month, and they don’t coincide with the bank statements.”

Some of the club’s checks had been bouncing, and the money earmarked to build a replacement ticket booth is missing. Club officials said they determined the money had been disappearing during the past couple of years.

“This was apparently a hide-the-ball thing for quite some time,” said Kevin Sullivan, an attorney who has volunteered his services to assist the club.

He said a debit card had been obtained for the account and there were records of transactions at Oxford Casino, private car payments and direct withdrawals.

“It is clear to us he has a gambling problem,” Sullivan said, apparently referring to the treasurer. “We know what’s going on. We know what happened. We know where the money went. We know why it went there. We know who took it. The information as we have it is being provided to the Kennebec sheriff ’s office to deal with as a criminal prosecution.”

He declined to say more while the investigation is underway.

“It’s left the Litchfield Farmers’ Club in a very sticky situation to get this fair open in two weeks, and they need the help,” Sullivan said.

Smith and Brown say they are seeking donations to help pay the bills. They said $20,000 would go a long way and have arranged for Camden National Bank to set up an account to receive any donations made at any branch location.

“We have contracts; we have vendors that we’re obligated to,” Smith said. “It takes a great deal to get this fair off the ground.”

Officials who run the Topsham Fair have offered their assistance as well.

Sullivan said the Litchfield Farmers’ Club has an insurance policy and club officials are looking into the specifics of the coverage.

“Basically, when you put your faith in someone, you expect them to be careful; in this case, that wasn’t the case,” said Brown, who has been on the board since 1980.

The fair brochure says about 17,000 people attend the Litchfield Fair each year.

Fair exhibits can be submitted by residents of Litchfield, Bath, Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Dresden, Farmingdale, Gardiner, Greene, Leeds, Lewiston, Lisbon, Manchester, Monmouth, Pittston, West Gardiner, Randolph, Richmond, Sabattus, Topsham, Wales, Wayne, Winthrop and Woolwich.

Brown said the financial setback isn’t going to stop his group from holding the fair.

“We’ll do it; we’re a bunch of farmers,” he said.

Betty Adams — 621-5631 [email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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