Ex-legislator charged on referendum role

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AUGUSTA – A former state lawmaker who took a first step last week toward launching a people’s veto challenge to Maine’s new term-limit law has been accused by state officials of improperly using his authority as a notary to administer oaths in connection with a previous referendum drive.

The Maine attorney general’s office went to Lewiston District Court last Friday to lodge a criminal complaint alleging four counts of false acknowledgment of oath, which are misdemeanor charges, against Stavros Mendros of Lewiston.

The allegations in the complaint date to November 2005 and involve initiative petitions in support of An Act to Authorize a Tribal Commercial Track and Slot Machines in Washington County.

The state charges that on four occasions Mendros “did willfully and falsely acknowledge the oath of a circulator” when the four petition circulators did not make their oaths in Mendros’ presence.

“I’m looking forward to clearing my name,” Mendros said Wednesday, referring questions to attorney Dan Billings.

“It’s a technical issue,” Billings said, adding that he had not seen enough information to address the merits of the charges but that there were no allegations that the petitions were not legitimate.

Billings said not guilty pleas were likely to be entered at an Aug. 22 District Court arraignment.

False acknowledgment of oath would be a Class E crime punishable by up to six months in jail and fine of up to $1,000, according to the attorney general’s office.

A two-term Republican state representative, Mendros unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat in 2002.

A quest by advocates of a racetrack casino in eastern Maine has a long and tangled history.

In April, Gov. John Baldacci responded to enactment by the Senate by vetoing the measure that would allow the Passamaquoddy Indian Tribe to go ahead with the project. The House of Representatives upheld the veto right away, clearing the way for a statewide referendum on the proposal.

The ballot question will read: “Do you want to allow a Maine tribe to run a harness racing track with slot machines and high-stakes beano games in Washington County?”

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap had ruled in January that referendum organizers had submitted enough valid signatures – just barely – to get the citizen initiative promoting the racino proposal before the Legislature.

Unless approved by lawmakers, citizen initiatives are passed on to state referendum voters. The racino proposal will be on Maine ballots in November.

The drive to win approval for a Down East racino had been derailed in March 2006, when Dunlap ruled that citizen initiative organizers had failed to turn in enough valid petition signatures to force a referendum.

At the time, Dunlap said that of more than 60,500 signatures submitted a month earlier to his office, nearly 13,000 were invalidated. Among the reasons were names not being certified as those of registered voters, duplicate signatures and signatures made by someone else.

Election officials said the 12,985 invalidations were for reasons that are fairly typical in initiative campaigns, such as a husband or wife signing for a spouse, and did not involve criminal misconduct.

But Dunlap said the attorney general’s office was investigating allegations of irregularities, which could include criminal misconduct, in the gathering of signatures.

State action against Mendros coincided with him stepping forward on a new issue.

A people’s veto application he filed with state officials Friday would block a newly enacted measure to let Maine voters determine whether legislators may serve two more consecutive terms in office than the four permitted now.

The bill that would be targeted by the people’s veto was signed by Gov. John Baldacci in June and would, subject to voter approval this November, extend Maine’s present four-term limit on consecutive service in legislative office to six terms – or from eight consecutive years to 12 in either the state House of Representatives or Senate.

The extension would not apply to lawmakers now serving their fourth and final terms.

According to the secretary of state’s office, people’s veto applicants will have until Sept. 19 to submit the required number of petition signatures to force a statewide vote.

Turning in enough signatures by the September deadline would serve to delay the effective date of the enacted bill.

The Maine secretary of state’s office also lists Mendros as the proponent of citizen initiative petitions approved for circulation for the 2008 ballot promoting An Act to Establish the Maine Public Real Estate Listing Service.

AP-ES-07-11-07 1422EDT

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