AUGUSTA – Former state Rep. William Walcott, D-Lewiston, may face criminal prosecution for spending $4,874 of taxpayer money for personal use, according to a memo from the state Ethics Commission.

Executive Director Jonathan Wayne authored the note to commission members, and it was posted on the commission Web site Friday. It will be discussed next week.

The memo, which was released to commission members Thursday, said Walcott failed to return $1,940.56 of unused Maine Clean Election funds to the state, and later admitted to fabricating reports of how he spent the other $2,933.44.

“He stated that, in fact, he made no financial expenditures in connection with the 2006 campaign because his re-election was ‘safe,'” Wayne wrote.

Repeated attempts Friday to reach Walcott by phone and at his home at 12 Horton St. were unsuccessful.

Walcott, who was serving his third term representing most of downtown Lewiston, has since returned the balance to the fund.

The commission will meet Sept. 21 with Walcott and his attorney and then decide how to proceed.

The ethics commission staff recommendation is to refer the matter to the state attorney general’s office for possible criminal prosecution. According to the staff report, “Walcott’s actions could also subject him to large civil penalties by the commission for violations such as submitting false campaign finance reports and spending MCEA funds for purposes that were not related to his campaign.”

Walcott’s attorney, David Van Dyke of Lewiston, would not comment on the case. He said he would reveal more details, such as how Walcott spent the money, at the meeting Friday.

Walcott resigned from the Legislature effective Aug. 24, saying he was leaving due to work constraints. There are two copies of his letter of resignation with different dates and slightly different signatures, but otherwise identical. One is dated Aug. 7, the other Aug. 23. Legislative staff said it could be a typo.

House Speaker Glenn Cummings, D-Portland, said Friday that Walcott told him he was going to resign about a month ago.

Cummings said he asked him if he could hold off a week in resigning because they hadn’t found a candidate.

“He said, ‘I can’t, and I can’t tell you why,'” Cummings said. “I didn’t know what the issue was.”

Wayne said Walcott was one of “a very small number” of 2006 candidates audited “for cause.” Twenty percent of Clean Election candidates are audited randomly to submit proof of their expenditures.

Walcott was audited because he went two months beyond the December 2006 deadline before returning the $1,940 in unspent funds.

The audit required Walcott to hand over bank statements and records of the $2,933 he reported he spent on campaign literature and postage. On the Aug. 28, 2007, deadline for responding to the audit, Walcott admitted he fabricated the entire amount. He paid the money back to the fund with a check written on his personal account dated Sept. 4.

While he would not say how he spent the money, Wayne said Van Dyke told him Walcott was in “modest financial” circumstances.

It is a violation to spend the funds for any purposes except for the campaign.

“Unfortunately, we find no reason to believe that he would have returned the money had he not been audited by the commission,” Wayne wrote.

According to the commission’s staff finding, when Walcott applied for Clean Election funding in April 2006, he expected to spend the money “on legitimate campaign expenses.” However, he later “decided that he did not want to be re-elected, and hoped that his party would find another candidate in his district. When the party was unable, he agreed to continue being a candidate in the general election,” limiting his campaign to attending forums and responding to questionnaires. He did not conduct a door-to-door campaign.

Both Cummings and Wayne said they don’t think this case will put a damper on the public’s perception of Clean Election funding. Hundreds of candidates through the years have used the funds responsibly.

“This is clearly an anomaly,” Cummings said.

The news reached legislative leaders Friday.

“He was a hardworking member of the state Legislature but his misuse of Clean Election funds is really disappointing,” said House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven, in a statement. “This is an important system that was set up to help regular, working people run for the Legislature without having to spend their time fundraising from the lobby.”

Cummings said Walcott eventually did the right thing by resigning and paying the money back. He had sung praises of Walcott during a Democratic caucus to replace him days earlier, noting the time the Lewiston representative had revealed he was gay in a debate about anti-discrimination legislation in 2005. He said the news of the commission’s findings shocked him.

“It’s a shame,” Cummings said Friday. “Will Walcott did one of the most courageous things I’ve ever seen here at the State House.”

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