Personal thoughts on Paul Violette facing jail in Maine OPEN LETTER
By Peter Samuel
Paul: sorry to hear your continuing legal problems. I thought that you were plain dumb the way you handled the southern toll plaza issue. And of course I wrote that. You completely underestimated some smart and quite reasonable critics down in York - plus their experienced industry consultant - with your stubbornness in insisting on the flashy new ORT+cash toll plaza.
You were poorly served by HNTB who of course had a corporate interest in an expensive solution down there. And an interest too in lots of studies and restudies that go along with a controversy. But they were your 'employees,' and in the end it was your decision to persist in that silly fight on behalf of old technology and old solutions.
In the age of all-electronic tolling and capital costs of $5m or so for a free flow toll point over 6 or 8 lanes, no one can possibly justify spending $40 million on a new ORT+cash plaza - not to speak of perpetuating the higher annual operating costs of cash collection for years afterward.
You fully deserved to lose your job over your mishandling of that issue.
You were openly and overtly proposing to waste some $35 million of toll and taxpayer money and you were forgoing the opportunity to save on annual operating costs. That was simply indefensible, and you never really defended it.
I'd have absolutely no sympathy for you if you'd been thrown out of the Maine Turnpike over the southern toll plaza issue.
It's bizarre though. Instead of getting you on your misspending of real money - tens of millions in York - they got you on the petty cash.
I do recall some of your hospitality from time to time, and have to say I never thought much about whether it was on you or the Turnpike there in Rome and other places where you picked up the tab dining and drinking together. I guess I'd better invoke the failing memory of a 71 year old if your state's zealous auditors get to read this memo.
I can joke, but your predicament is dire.
Frankly in these days of high taxation I have the impression it's become commonplace for people like you to live out of their government and corporate jobs, putting all kinds of expenses on their 'employer.' You may have gone further than the average chief executive. And once it had been discovered I think they were right to fire you, and to seek the money back in the civil action - if only to frighten others so inclined - and to prevent the practice becoming more rampant than it is.
But I think they go too far in wanting to send you to jail. That's too much.
There's an injustice there in your bearing the whole legal weight of loose spending at the Turnpike. You had plenty of willing collaborators in your loose spending. Other staff benefitted from your hospitality, and on many more occasions than I did. More than that, you had accountants and auditors at the Turnpike who turned a blind eye to your misappropriations.
And where were the directors of the Turnpike Authority?
They betrayed their trust and they committed legal and moral wrongs also in failing to question your actions.
Why are they not investigated and some being prosecuted?
It is very noble of you to take all personal responsibility, Paul, but in a way you are allowing yourself to be made a scapegoat for a broader failure to maintain financial integrity at the Turnpike. You had broad and overall responsibility at the Turnpike, but there were people there whose sole responsibility was to see money wasn't misappropriated, and they are apparently getting off scot-free.
Also wrong is that they are proposing to send you to jail in Maine when I see what's happening at the Delaware River Port Authority in Philadelphia and south Jersey.
Do we live in different countries? Is there one kind of tight morality and rule of law in New England and an opposite kind in the mid Atlantic states?
Just last week we saw a state controller of New Jersey spell out massive and persistent self-indulgence, thievery and misspending at DRPA, the toll authority for the Philadelphia toll bridges that makes your wrongs in Maine puny by comparison. In reporting that I joked that you should have lived down this way, not up in little Maine, because down here they almost take this smelly stuff for granted.
Two Republican governors elected in reaction to Democratic excesses in spending, Governors Chris Christie and Tom Corbett have said not a word about the state controller's report on DRPA and have not lifted a finger to actually do anything either. Actually Corbett never seems to say a word about anything significant, deserving the moniker Silent Tom. By contrast Christie on the east bank of the Delaware never shuts up. He talks enough for two governors.
The point is the incessant talker Christie who presents himself as on a crusade to stop government mis-spending and waste turns a blind eye to documentation of precisely that right on his own doorstep at DRPA.
I find that flabbergasting when I see what's happened to you, Paul.
DRPA people are not being prosecuted for their malfeasance.
They are not being pursued in any civil actions to get stolen money back.
And they aren't even losing their jobs.
They are allowed to get off scot-free in return for saying feebly:
"We've closed down our rackets. We've now stopped our racketeering, we're now following the straight and narrow. And thanks for putting us right."
That's an outrage given what you've been put through, Paul, and what you face.
You were punished appropriately in losing your job - even if they got you on petty stuff. And it was right that you should be asked to repay the Turnpike. But jail too is too much punishment, especially when you live in the same country as the DRPA thieves.
I really hope the judge you face sees you have suffered enough already - editor.
Several people have disagreed with this.
Typical is this from M Jones of Texas:
Peter, You feel sorry for Paul Violette. Yet, you take no sympathy for the toll attendants caught stealing - truly pennies in the scheme of thing. Both committed a crime. Why shouldn't he do the time? But chances are he won't go to jail because of his age, if nothing else.
Seriously, you are perplexed by the injustice of the justice system. Come on.
The laws are different from state to state - state's right; and enforced differently as well. Prosecutorial discretion allows prosecutors to decide what criminal misconduct is prosecuted and the extent at which they will pursue the alleged violator. Judicial discretion allows judges to decide the extent of punishment.
As a result, people, who seemingly committed the same crime, are treated differently across this great nation, and even within the same state, the same county, the same town. It could be the result of a zero tolerance policy of one county prosecution office versus another. It could be political -making an example out of someone - tag you're it. It could because of who you know and what you don't know. It could be the conservative or liberal bent of the prosecutor or judge.
It could be because the person has a better defense attorney than the prosecutor. Many, many reasons why there is no such thing as an even hand of justice... But that might depend on what you call justice, really. All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others!