The Maine Turnpike Authority is suing former chief executive Paul Violette, demanding he repay $524,000 it alleges he cost the agency between 2003 and 2011.
Richardson, Whitman, Large & Badger of Portland, which is representing the authority, filed the suit in Cumberland County Superior Court on Tuesday and accused Violette, who resigned as MTA chief on March 7, of “breaches of trust” and “self-dealing.”
The lawsuit alleged that Violette used $160,000 of gift certificates for personal benefit; charged nearly $25,000 in personal hotel, travel, and meals to the MTA; charged $143,000 in personal and family spending “with malice” to the authority; was overpaid for $140,000 in claims for unused vacation pay; and fraudulently overclaimed $21,000 in unused sick pay.
The lawsuit also wants $35,000 from Violette for auditing and attorney costs, interest, and punitive damages.
The Bond Buyer left messages seeking comment Thursday with Violette’s lawyer, Peter DeTroy of Portland’s Norman Hanson DeTroy LLC. Approached by the Portland Press-Herald, DeTroy declined comment, citing a possible criminal case against Violette. The state attorney general’s office is investigating.
“I’m handcuffed,” DeTroy told the newspaper. “I could have a response to any number of these things, but I have a potential criminal [case] out there.”
A review in January by the state’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability triggered the events that led to Violette’s downfall. The agency’s report criticized the authority for high administrative salaries and a close relationship with an engineering firm, HNTB of New York.
“HNTB may not have sufficient independence from MTA to effectively fill the role as consulting engineer, and provide bondholder protection,” the report said.
Two months later, Violette, a former Senate majority leader, resigned. Peter Mills, a former state senator, is interim executive director.
Appearing before the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee on April 15, Violette invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to answer questions about the authority’s spending practices.
According to the civil complaint, the MTA bought gift cards to upscale totals and restaurants with nearly $187,000 between 2003 and 2007, “ostensibly for the purpose of donating them to Maine organizations in an effort to build goodwill for the authority.”
But the lawsuit alleged that only $27,000 worth of gift cards actually went to organizations and Violette used nearly $100,000 personally.
Gift cards, according to court documents, were redeemed at hotels including the Hotel La Collegiata in San Gimignano, Italy, Le Reserve de Beaulieu in Beaulieu, France, and Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City. In addition, according to the lawsuit, cards valued at nearly $48,000 were used at Hyatt hotels worldwide.
The quasi-public authority operates the 109-mile toll road from Kittery to Augusta.