PORTLAND (AP) – Following widespread publicity over a $1,342 dinner tab that was picked up by a consultant, the Maine Turnpike Authority is developing an ethics code and its executive director has written a letter of apology to Gov. John Baldacci.

In addition, the consultant has been reimbursed by those who attended the dinner, according to turnpike Executive Director Paul Violette.

Five employees of the turnpike authority were among the nine people who attended dinner on June 20 at Eve’s in the Portland Harbor Hotel.

The meal, which cost $149 per person, included filet mignon, lobster and a $295 bottle of wine.

In a letter dated Thursday, Violette, who was at the dinner, told the governor that he should not have allowed the New Jersey-based consultant, Vincent Leonetti, to pay for what he called “an unusually expensive working dinner.”

“My familiarity with the situation and the people involved enables me to say with absolute certainty that the dinner violated no laws or policies and was paid for solely as an expression of friendship,” Violette wrote.

“However, I should have recognized the harmful public perception that acceptance of such a gesture could and has created. Repairing the perception of this particular event may not be possible,” the letter said. “Nevertheless, you should know that the consultant who paid for the dinner has since been reimbursed for its entire cost, with each individual who attended paying an equal share from their personal funds.”

Leonetti, the consultant who paid for the meal on June 20, had a $100-an-hour contract to help refurbish turnpike rest areas.

Baldacci has called for legislation that would require independent state agencies to adhere to existing government ethics rules.

“The governor’s certainly very concerned about what happened,” Baldacci’s spokeswoman Crystal Canney said on Friday. “He expects all state employees governed by the current policies, as well as independent agencies, to work within ethical guidelines.”

The Maine Turnpike Authority’s board released a proposed ethics code on Friday. The nine-page document – which states that employees should not accept personal gifts from people who buy from, sell to, or are regulated by the turnpike authority – is expected to be considered by the board at its meeting this Friday.

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