Ex-chief Paul Violette hit with racketeering lawsuit from his Maine Turnpike - over half million $s sought
By Peter Samuel
Former chief executive (CEO) of the Maine Turnpike Authority Paul E Violette was today hit with a lawsuit demanding repayment of about half a million dollars it alleges that he cost them in alleged fraud and abuse between 2003 and 2011. Violette, a former Democrat Party politician was CEO at the state Turnpike from 1988 until March this year when he was forced to resign by a scandal unearthed by a legislative oversight agency.
The civil lawsuit or "Complaint" was filed today (2011-07-19) in Portland's Cumberland County Superior Court by John S Whitman of Richardson Whitman Large & Badger an attorney hired by the Turnpike Authority after auditors at the state Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA) documented Violette's abuses of his position for personal gain.
The Complaint has four categories or Counts of alleged wrongdoing including hundreds of examples of financial "self dealing" by Violette after 2003, and asks for repayment plus Turnpike Authority costs, interest, unpaid taxes and punitive damages. An investigation under way by the state attorney-general's office may well pile on with criminal charges.
Today's Complaint charges that Violette acted with "malice" and abuse of "a position of trust" with "self dealing."
The lawsuit seeks compensation for alleged:
- $160k of gift certificates "fraudulently converted" for personal benefit
- $25k in fraud based on personal travel, hotel, and meals charged to the Turnpike that apparently had no connection to Turnpike business
- $143k in "abusive" credit card charges to Turnpike for personal and family spending
- $140k of fraudulent overclaims on unused vacation pay
- $21k in fraudulent overclaims for supposedly unused sick pay
The lawsuit asks in addition for a court order for payment of $35k by Violette for auditing and lawyer costs, interest and punitive damages.
Several pages of Exhibits or appendices detail the claimed abuses.
Those gift certificates gifted to self
Of $186,642 of gift cards bought by Violette with Turnpike money the Complaint says only $26,550 of these were given as intended to local organizations to build goodwill for the Turnpike. It says $160,092 was misused by Violette for his personal benefit, or even gone unused.
36 gift cards vendors are listed varying in cost between $200 in the case of a number of restaurants to $35,050 in the case of a single Hyatt Hotel purchase 15th September 2004. March 25th 2005 Violette bought and charged for gift certificates at the Relais & Chateau hotel chain, an Exhibit reports. Most hotel gift purchases are int he thousands of dollars. The abuses seem to scale down after January 2006.
Some of the abuses seem to coincide with Violette's period as President of IBTTA mid decade. He stayed in fancier hotels than IBTTA booked for several conferences, and which were used by other Turnpike staff. Add-on travel - for example to Seville and Grenada after a Madrid IBTTA event in November 2004 saw Violette cashing in gift certificates bought on the Turnpike dime.
Other favorite places for Violette's abuses were Barbados and Quebec City, but they seem to have occurred also in Florida, New Brunswick, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Violette's spending pattern before 2003 - in his first 15 years as CEO - has not been investigated and is not part of the Complaint.
"Sale" of unused vacation, sick pay
Abuse of supposedly untaken vacation and sick leave seems rife too in the nearly five years studied by auditors - from May 2006 to March 2011. The Exhibits detail some 3,420 vacation hours worth $185k and 2,240 sick leave hours worth $131k "sold" by Violette to the Turnpike.
No examination of Violette's "sale" of unused vacation and sick pay pre-2006 has been done.
Many of these abuses have been detailed today for the first time.
The OPEGA report in January suggested the strong likelihood of abuses with gift certificates but was generally positive about Violette's management of the state Turnpike. It suggested the need for closer investigation of the unaccounted gift cards and some lavish personal travel spending. It was also very critical an over-cozy relationship with HNTB as consulting engineers.
But it did not come across the equally abusive activity with vacation and sick pay now detailed.
AET vs ORT+cash triggered investigations
The OPEGA investigation was triggered by Dawn Hill, a state senator from south Maine, angered by Violette's refusal to discuss alternatives to a large new conventional (cash + ORT) toll plaza proposed for the south end of the Turnpike near York. The town of York commissioned a report from eTrans, a small company led by veteran toll systems consultant Daryl Fleming.
That eTrans report concluded there was no conceivable scenario that justified the approximate $35m capital and higher operating costs of the cash collecting toll plaza as compared to a modern all-electronic toll (AET) point costing under $10m.
The conventional toll plaza project has since bogged down in federal permitting. The Army Corps of Engineers' officer in Maine reviewing the York toll plaza project for the US Government picked up on Fleming's report for York and ordered the Turnpike to review the open-road + cash plaza it proposed via HNTB versus the AET toll point suggested by Fleming.
That sad folly of a toll plazas upgrade is now completely overshadowed by the civil - and likely criminal - charges against the former CEO.
see copy of Turnpike Authority Complaint against Violette:
Maine Turnpike Authority: