PORTLAND — Former Twin Cities developer Travis Soule was sentenced Thursday to 14 months in federal prison, followed by three years probation, for misappropriating federal money.
Soule, 48, had been charged with federal counts of fraud and embezzlement in a scheme to transfer federal housing funds to his personal bank accounts. He pleaded guilty to both counts in U.S. District Court in June.
Soule's attorney, Henry Griffin, argued Thursday for home confinement and probation, with no prison time.
Griffin characterized Soule as an ambitious, hardworking family man who resorted to manipulating paperwork and mingling funds in an effort to prop up his business during the start of a severe downturn in the economy. Griffin blamed the soaring price of heating oil for sparking Soule’s money problems. He said Soule’s lapse in judgment was an “aberration.”
Griffin said officials at the city of Lewiston approached him and urged him to apply for a $200,000 federal housing loan that he could tap to improve three of his apartment buildings in that city.
“Mr. Soule did not go looking for the trouble that would soon find him,” Griffin said.
Soule wasn’t likely to pose a threat to the community nor to re-offend, Griffin said.
Soule's mother, sister and uncle all spoke at the sentencing, urging leniency.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Halsey Frank told U.S. District Court Judge D. Brock Hornby that the government didn’t think a waiver of prison time was warranted, given Soule’s actions of repeated deception, forgery and diversion of taxpayer money. Frank said prosecutors didn’t know where all of the ill-gotten money went.
Misappropriating $180,000 of taxpayer money was a “serious violation of trust,” Frank said. “There is a message that needs to be conveyed here.”
Hornby apparently agreed. In explaining his sentence, the judge said he felt Soule had to serve time in prison, in part, because: "This was not a single act. It was a course of conduct that went on."
The judge also said he wanted the prison term to send a message to the public about the consequences of white-collar crime.
As part of his sentence, Soule must undergo alcohol-abuse counseling during his period of probation. Soule’s only criminal record showed a series of convictions for operating under the influence.
He told the judge: “I know I broke the law. I know I hurt a lot of people . . . I am truly very, very, very sorry for what I did.”
Soule said he learned from his crime that the ends never justify the means.
"I was desperately trying to save something,” he said. In doing so, he said he destroyed his character, beliefs and reputation.
His idea of success had been gauged by material possessions and finances, he said. His idea of success now is to raise his three children and watch them grow into people of good character.
He said he looks at himself in the mirror and says, “You did that to yourself.”
After sentencing Soule, Hornby said he appreciated Soule’s candor and his remarks showed a self-awareness and truthfulness.
“You’re going to pay a penalty for what you did, then you’re going to have to forgive yourself,” Hornby said.
He also told Soule, “You have an underlying devil to confront,” referring to Soule’s alcohol abuse.
Hornby said he was impressed by the support Soule’s family showed by appearing during his sentencing, some family members speaking on his behalf.
“That’s going to be critical to you,” Hornby said.
Soule was ordered to pay $40,802 in restitution to Camden National Bank and $139,198 to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
He had faced up to 15 years in prison and up to $500,000 in fines.
If he seeks to appeal his sentence, he must file within two weeks, Hornby said.
Soule, who had been free pending sentencing, emptied the pocket of his khaki pants and stripped off his jacket before he was led from the courtroom with his hands cuffed behind his back.
“I’m disappointed in what the judge has done,” Griffin said afterward. “It’s certainly his prerogative to do that. He sees these cases all the time. He puts them on a continuum. And he’s got other issues to worry about, such as how the public sees these cases and the reaction they’ll have.”
Soule, formerly of New Gloucester, at one time controlled about 600 housing units in Lewiston and Auburn. He had worked with Lewiston city staff on a proposed redevelopment of the Libbey Mill area near the Great Falls.
In 2009, HUD’s Office of Inspector General began began investigating Soule’s housing and development activities after learning of irregularities in his loan applications for HUD funding to rehabilitate and repair his low-income rental properties.
In June, he was charged with federal counts of fraud and theft, stemming from $180,000 worth of fraudulent transactions between June 2007 and May 2008 for rehab projects at three Pine Street properties.
Soule pleaded guilty to soliciting estimates from various contractors for rehabilitation of those properties and filing the estimates with fraudulent applications to the city of Lewiston for loans under HUD’s HOME program, which is aimed at improving availability of affordable housing for low-income families.
Through his plea, Soule acknowledged that he embezzled money from the HOME Investment Partnership Program by converting checks and vouchers for his own use, including forging subcontractors’ signatures and depositing some of the checks into his personal checking account.
In addition to the federal convictions, Soule has faced a number of court actions in the past two years.
In December, an Androscoggin County Superior Court judge ordered Soule to pay a former contractor more than $66,000 for work the man did on Soule’s Stevens Mills condominium development in Auburn.
In 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency filed complaints against Soule, alleging 51 violations of the federal lead disclosure law.
Soule also faced legal action in Cumberland County, including a civil claim by a former partner that Soule mismanaged the pair’s rental properties and diverted thousands of dollars to himself and his wife.