LEWISTON – Federal inspectors Friday seized public records at City Hall related to an investigation into allegations that a prominent Twin Cities developer misused federal housing money.

In preparation for a story published Thursday, the Sun Journal filed a request under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act earlier in the week to review and get copies of those records involving a federal U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program.

Specifically, the Sun Journal reported that Travis Soule, 45, of New Gloucester may have committed fraud when he received federal money to replace heating systems in three Pine Street apartment buildings by allegedly forging the heating contractor’s name to endorse at least two checks totaling $50,000.

Soule could not be reached for comment Friday.

City officials confirmed those allegations in a meeting with a Sun Journal reporter and editor on Tuesday, the same day the newspaper filed its request for access to records, citing the state’s public records law, but city officials declined to release documents at that time.

Consulting with the city’s attorney, Regan Hornney of Brann & Isaacson, City Administrator Jim Bennett agreed Friday morning to allow the Sun Journal access to the requested documents. Bennett was in the process of drafting a letter to HUD informing the agency he intended to comply with the newspaper’s request, when a HUD agent from the Inspector General’s Office in Manchester, N.H., served Bennett with an administrative subpoena midday Friday. The agent seized all records relating to the program, including copies Bennett said he directed city staff to make that should remain at City Hall for accounting and audit purposes.

Bennett said he was aware on Thursday that an agent from the New Hampshire office could be arriving sometime Monday to retrieve the original documents, but Bennett didn’t expect the sweeping subpoena Friday.

He said city attorneys had planned to give the inspector serving the subpoena a letter stating the city’s position: “short of you telling us anything else, that those were public documents and we were going to let (the Sun Journal) examine them.”

Bennett said the agent told him, “It doesn’t matter because my subpoena says I’m asking for all originals and all copies.” Bennett said he then called the city’s attorney and said: “OK, now what do I do?”

Staff had also copied documents for auditors to examine in an effort to determine whether the city’s policies and procedures around the HUD program were sound.

“It’s going to be a small, little issue when the auditors try to audit the paperwork and we don’t have the checks or any of the other stuff,” Bennett said.

He suggested to the agent serving the subpoena that he talk to the Sun Journal about its active FOAA request for the same records.

Bennett said the agent told him: “‘That’s not the way it works in the feds.'”

The Sun Journal requested a copy of the administrative subpoena but was told, through its attorney, that the document is shielded from public access.


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