Collecting ethics fines from 4 now up to AG

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AUGUSTA – The collection of thousands of tax dollars and thousands more in penalties assessed to two former legislative candidates and their consultants has been turned over to Maine’s Office of the Attorney General.

On Jan. 5, the Maine Ethics Commission ruled that former 2004 candidates Julia St. James of Hartford and Sarah Trundy of Minot, and consultants Daniel Rogers of Auburn and Jessica Larlee of Minot misused Clean Election Act money and failed to maintain records required by law.

They were ordered to pay more than $60,000 in fines and restitution.

Efforts to collect the money have been unsuccessful, Assistant Commission Director Paul Lavin said Friday afternoon.

Additionally, Lavin said, mailings to Rogers have been returned to the commission as undeliverable.

So, at last month’s commission meeting, “It was referred to the Attorney General’s Office, and we communicated that to all four people, and that’s all we know,” Lavin said.

Contacted Friday afternoon, Attorney General spokesman Chuck Dow declined to talk about what their investigators intend to do. But, he did confirm that the matter has been turned over to them.

The commission also voted in January to forward the files from its investigation to the AG’s office for consideration of criminal prosecution.

Sanctions outstanding are:

• Former state senate candidate St. James, who ran as a Fourth Branch Party candidate against Sen. Bruce Bryant, D-Dixfield, was fined $13,000 and ordered to repay $11,088 to the Clean Election Fund. The commission ruled that St. James failed to keep receipts, invoices or other documents showing how she spent taxpayers’ money.

• Rogers was fined $17,500 for taking money to do substantial campaign work, then failed to do the work, and for “fabricating” false invoices.

• Former Green House candidate Trundy, who ran against Rep. Joan Bryant-Deschenes, R-Turner, was fined $500 for failing to keep records of how taxpayers’ money was spent. She was also ordered to repay $2,981.76 of campaign money spent on non-campaign items, two-thirds of what she received.

After hours of testimony, the panel concluded Trundy was naïve, not a serious candidate, and took no interest in her own campaign.

• Larlee, who was Trundy’s campaign treasurer and did the same for St. James until St. James fired her and took over the duties herself, was fined $15,500 for failing to obtain and keep receipts and invoices for all campaign spending, incomplete campaign reports, and for failing to liquidate equipment and return proceeds. Commissioners concluded she took advantage of Trundy by convincing her to run.

On Friday, Gov. John Baldacci signed emergency legislation that tightens and clarifies restrictions on the use of Clean Election campaign funds by qualifying candidates. The legislation, which took effect immediately upon the governor’s signature, makes clear that candidates may not use any Clean Election money for anything other than campaign-related purposes.

The new law says candidates must deposit Maine Clean Election funds in a bank account, and keep vendor invoices and canceled checks or other proof of payments of $50 or more. The law also gives more financial responsibility in publicly funded campaigns to campaign treasurers and managers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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