PORTLAND — The former executive director of the Maine Turnpike pleaded guilty Thursday to stealing turnpike funds over a period of years to pay for upscale hotels in Maine, Canada, the Caribbean and Europe, meals at fancy restaurants and personal spa treatments.

Paul Violette, 56, pleaded guilty to a charge of theft for unauthorized use of turnpike gift cards and using turnpike authority credit cards for personal travel, meals and other expenses.

He will likely be sentenced in April. Prosecutors will ask for five years, while his attorney will seek a shorter sentence.

Violette was executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority, which oversees the 109-mile Maine Turnpike, for 23 years before he resigned last March amid allegations of lavish spending and misappropriation of funds.

“This is the biggest public corruption case I’ve seen in my 28 years of practice,” Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin said after the hearing. “This is a significant abuse of power.”

Violette agreed to plead guilty to own up to the charges and put the matter behind him, said Portland attorney Peter DeTroy, who represents Violette.

“Remorse has been there since day one,” DeTroy said after the hearing. “And obviously he has a lot of anxiety about what’s going to happen to him going forward. There’s also a tremendous sense of remorse of what this has done to his friends and family. He feels very embarrassed about what has happened.”

Violette sat grim-faced with his eyes closed Thursday as Robbin recited a list of hotels and boutique inns where Violette used turnpike funds to pay for hotel stays in Maine, Quebec, New Brunswick, Massachusetts, Bermuda, Puerto Rico, Italy and France. He also used the funds to make a $1,000 deposit on a tuxedo, Robbin said.

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