2012-02-10 / Maine

Ex-turnpike chief pleads guilty


PAUL VIOLETTE PAUL VIOLETTE PORTLAND (AP) — The former executive director of the Maine Turnpike pleaded guilty Thursday to stealing tens of thousands of dollars of turnpike funds over many years to pay for upscale hotels in Maine, Canada, the Caribbean and Europe, meals at fancy restaurants and personal spa treatments.

Paul Violette, 56, pleaded guilty to a charge of theft for unauthorized use of turnpike gift cards and using turnpike authority credit cards for personal travel, meals and other expenses.

He will likely be sentenced in April. Prosecutors will ask for five years. His attorney will seek a shorter sentence.

Violette was executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority for 23 years before he resigned last March amid allegations of lavish spending and misappropriation of funds. The authority oversees the 109-mile Maine Turnpike.

“This is the biggest public corruption case I’ve seen in my 28 years of practice,” Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin said after the hearing. “This is a significant abuse of power.”

Violette agreed to own up to the charges and put the matter behind him, said Portland attorney Peter DeTroy, who represents Violette.

“Remorse has been there since day one,” DeTroy said after the hearing. “And obviously he has a lot of anxiety about what’s going to happen to him going forward. There’s also a tremendous sense of remorse of what this has done to his friends and family.

He feels very embarrassed about what has happened.”

Violette had no comment after the hearing. He was accompanied by his brother,

Tom, and his brother’s wife.

He sat grim-faced with his eyes closed Thursday as Robbin recited a list of hotels and boutique inns where he used turnpike funds for stays in Maine, Quebec, New Brunswick, Massachusetts, Bermuda, Puerto Rico, Italy and France. He also used turnpike funds to make a $1,000 deposit on a tuxedo, Robbin said.

Robbin told Superior Court Justice Roland Cole that state officials have identified up to $230,000 of turnpike funds that were potentially used for Violette’s personal expenses.

Violette’s downfall stemmed from a report last year by the state Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability that looked at turnpike authority operations and finances. The authority is a quasi-governmental agency that runs the turnpike, which carries more than 60 million vehicles and generates $100 million or more in toll revenues a year.

The report scrutinized Violette’s purchase of hundreds of gift cards to upscale hotels and restaurants. Violette claimed he gave the cards to civic and charitable groups for fundraisers, but he couldn’t document his claims.

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