A civil trial starts Monday in the lawsuit brought by a Portland woman who has accused a family friend of sexually abusing her in the 1990s.

Julia Russell, who grew up in Saco and co-owns Magnus on Water in downtown Biddeford, filed a civil complaint against Philip Chenevert in U.S. District Court in Portland in July 2021. The complaint details allegations that Chenevert abused her for two years in the early 1990s, starting when she was about 6 years old.

Chenevert owned Dr. Volvo, an auto dealership and service center on Route 1 in Arundel, and was a groomsman in her parents’ wedding.

Russell kept her secret for almost three decades. She told her family and the public about Chenevert’s abuse in July 2021, believing she could help other potential victims. Since then, at least two other women have come forward to say they also were abused by Chenevert as children. They also will testify during the trial.

“Speaking about abuse that occurs within particularly a small community was very important to me because I have a business in that community now,” Russell said in a deposition with Chenevert’s attorney in April. “It seemed important to bring to light abuse that occurred under a lot of people’s noses, and hopefully in that some sort of a growth within the community, and improve the community in some way.”

According to Russell’s attorney, Taylor Asen, the overlap between Russell’s accounts and those of the two other women – how and where they were abused, and that the women’s families had close ties to Chenevert – is so strong that it’s hard to pin those similarities on coincidence.


“It’s scary to think that somebody could’ve gotten away with this for so long, with so many young women – girls, they were not women, they were girls,” Asen said.

Chenevert’s attorney, Gene Libby, did not respond to a message Wednesday asking to discuss the case. Chenevert has denied Russell’s allegations in court filings.

Because Chenevert moved to Saint Johns County, Florida, in 2011, the case is being heard in federal court.

The trial is expected to begin Monday at 8:30 a.m. A jury will have to determine what, if any, damages Chenevert owes Russell for her emotional distress. Unlike civil cases in Maine courts, plaintiffs in federal cases cannot request a specific amount of money for damages to their emotional well-being.

But for Russell, Asen said, it’s not about the money, it’s about the accountability.

“She wants to take something from him,” Asen said. “We want him to feel consequences for what he did.”


Russell also filed a criminal complaint with the Biddeford Police Department. The department declined to comment on or confirm the existence of an investigation this week.

Under Maine law, a charge of gross sexual assault against a victim under age 16 who was abused after 1985 is not subject to a statute of limitations.

Chenevert was a friend of the Russell family for as long as she could remember. Chenevert met her father when they were teenagers, vacationing at their families’ summer homes in Biddeford Pool in the late 1960s. The two reconnected as young adults when they started living there year-round. When the Russell family moved across the river to Saco, Chenevert was often over for dinners, parties and to babysit, according to Russell’s complaint.


Russell said Chenevert was constantly pursuing ways to spend time alone with her in those early years. He expressed interest in the video games she played, and he built her an electric scooter that he kept at his house in Biddeford Pool so she’d have to visit.

The abuse began in 1992 when Russell was 6 years old, the complaint states.


“The abuse took place, among other places, at Julia’s home in Saco; at Chenevert’s home in Biddeford Pool; in Chenevert’s boat while it was moored at the Biddeford Yacht Club; and in his office at Dr. Volvo,” a car dealership Chenevert owned and operated in Arundel.

The abuse ended in 1994 after Russell watched a video at school about child predators, she said in a deposition with Chenevert’s attorney.

But Chenevert was still a constant in Russell’s life.

When she was in high school, Chenevert helped her buy a Boston Whaler. Chenevert, who had multiple boats, would go fishing with her up and down the Saco River. In April 1999, they helped rescue two small children who had fallen off another boat. They were recognized by the Biddeford Police Department.

Russell could be seen smiling in family photos with Chenevert, which Libby showed her in the deposition. But “people smile in all sorts of situations,” she said, adding that the abuse affected her relationships as an adult in ways she sometimes recognized and sometimes couldn’t.

“I believe the multiple occurrences of abuse that I not only alleged but actually did suffer at the hands of Phil Chenevert were constantly living in my head at all times in the back of my head, sometimes very much in the present moment, and affected my life in many ways,” Russell told Libby.



Depositions indicate the two other women continually remember the abuse they allegedly endured as children at Chenevert’s hands. One woman said that she struggles with anxiety – “racing thoughts, increased adrenaline … issues with anger, lack of focus and concentration.”

The other woman described several sexual encounters with Chenevert in “the Pontiac, the convertible, the boat and the auto dealership,” and during movie parties he held at his home for the neighborhood kids. She said Chenevert would buy her toys, candy and clothes to reward her for these sexual encounters.

She said the abuse began when she was 8 years old. The neighborhood was affluent. Her parents were “very frugal,” and she and her siblings “were not spoiled children by any means.”

“There was a lot of material desire that I had,” she said. “And so like clothes and accessories and toys, things that were not freely available in my household that I saw a lot of other kids around me having multitudes of, I was really desperate to have.”

The Press Herald does not identify victims of alleged sexual assault without their consent.

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