LEWISTON — For months, Heather Everly Berube volunteered for Democratic mayoral candidate Ben Chin while secretly funneling his campaign emails to Republican rival Shane Bouchard — with whom, she said, she happened to be having an affair.

Bouchard would go on to win the race, in part because those emails were made public.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Sun Journal on Wednesday — her first since publicly making allegations of criminal activity against now-Mayor Bouchard and asking the Lewiston City Council on Tuesday night to vacate his seat — Berube detailed what she said was a months long, covert effort to boost Bouchard’s chances of becoming mayor.

“I didn’t want (Maine People’s Alliance) to own my city. And having a Republican mayor to balance out the six liberal city councilors made sense,” Berube said.

However, she said Bouchard “played on her vulnerabilities” in crafting a relationship with her and she did not know the emails she provided him would ever be made public. She gave them to Bouchard, she said, because she thought he could privately use the canvasing data and campaign statistics contained within “to know where he stood” in the race. She believes Bouchard or his wife gave the emails to Jason Savage, head of the Maine GOP and owner and operator of the conservative Maine Examiner website that published leaked emails.

As proof, she released a screenshot of a text conversation between her and Bouchard. In it, she said the Maine Examiner’s email story “seems so dirty,” and Bouchard responded, in part, that it was the tip of the iceberg and “We will see how this plays out. Maybe we release more. Maybe this does it. Either way, I need you down the stretch.”

Bouchard acknowledged Wednesday he got internal Chin emails from Berube, but he denied having a sexual relationship with her and denied either he or his wife forwarded the emails to Savage for publication. He also denied Berube’s criminal allegations.

“A lot of these allegations are too ridiculous to honestly dignify with an answer,” he said.

Savage on Wednesday also denied he got the emails from either Bouchard or his wife.

“There are a lot of places those emails could have been released,” he said.

Since the mayoral runoff election in December 2017, it has been an open secret among Lewiston politicians that Berube, a Chin volunteer, was the one who had sent internal emails to the Bouchard campaign. However, this is the first time most members of the public are hearing about it, the first time Berube has openly admitted it and the first time the full scope of the situation has been clear.

Berube did not just send a handful of emails. She sent dozens, if not hundreds. As a trusted volunteer, she was among the list of people to receive Chin’s internal emails every day, and they were all sent to Bouchard, she said.

Berube, 33, lives in Lewiston and said she decided to come forward now for a few reasons, most notably because she has come to believe she harmed the city by secretly helping Bouchard become mayor.

“I need to make it right,” she said. “I think an explanation is owed.”

‘He went and took words out of context’

Shane Bouchard addresses the crowd at The Dolard & Priscilla Gendron Franco Center in Lewiston on Jan. 2, 2018, after being sworn in as the new mayor of Lewiston. Sun Journal file photo

Berube, who also goes by her married name Everly, began volunteering for the Chin campaign as a recruiter in the spring of 2017. Within months, she became disillusioned with Chin and with the liberal social change organization Maine People’s Alliance, which supported Chin’s campaign and where Chin worked as political engagement director. She also felt unheard when it came to issues important to her.

“Ben wouldn’t listen to me,” she said. “I asked him for a meeting and he showed up to talk at me.”

That summer, she learned more about Bouchard, Chin’s opponent in the race. His beliefs seemed to better match hers on some issues and she was intrigued. She said she messaged him on Facebook: “I’m curious about you.”

The two struck up a friendship, Berube said, and began messaging each other almost every day on Facebook. Bouchard asked about the custody fight for her kids, checked in on her, asked if she was OK.

“He made me feel like there was somebody there that listened,” she said.

Bouchard knew she worked for the Chin campaign and at one point asked her to share some of his opponent’s emails, she said. Berube said she refused.

Then, in late September, she said she agreed.

“I have no idea why I gave them to him when I did,” she said Wednesday. “I think that there was one email that really upset me about Ben (Chin) talking bad about the other candidates. And I sent that to him. After I sent one, just domino effect.”

Berube said she sent Bouchard both old emails and the new emails Chin sent out to volunteers every day.

“I think I forwarded, like, everything there was,” she said. “I think there was the one, and then I was like, ‘Screw this, here’s all of them.”

Within a few weeks, Berube said, she and Bouchard began having an affair. She said she was under the impression that he and his wife had an open relationship — something she said she realized later was not true.

Both the affair and the sending of emails continued until the beginning of December, Berube said. That is when the Maine Examiner ran a story exposing Chin’s internal emails. The website focused on a few comments Chin had made, including one in which he said he encountered a “bunch of racists” while campaigning.

Berube said Bouchard had once talked about using the emails against Chin and she was adamant he not. So she said she was shocked when the emails she provided ended up on the Maine Examiner website.

“He went and took words out of context,” she said.

Berube said she believed Bouchard, or possibly his wife, sent the emails to Savage, owner of the Maine Examiner. Both Bouchards, she said, had access to the campaign email account to which she had forwarded the emails.

A screenshot of a text exchange between Berube and Bouchard seems to indicate Bouchard either sent the emails to Savage or knew who did.

“You’re my secret weapon!” he said to Berube in a discussion about the Maine Examiner piece.

Berube said she was upset the emails were released.

“After he did that, our relationship fizzled really fast because it hurt,” she said.

‘I just need to make it right’

Berube did nothing about the emails and Bouchard for more than a year. While it was an open secret in local political circles that she had leaked them to Bouchard, she never made it public.

Then, recently, she applied to become a Notary Public, a job that requires strict ethics in duty to the public. She felt uncomfortable with secret breach of trust in her past, she said.

“(Tuesday) morning I woke up. . . I put something on Facebook,” she said.

That night, she went to a Lewiston City Council meeting planning to talk about a city issue. Instead, at the podium and without notes, she began to talk about Bouchard. She admitted she was the one who gave Chin’s emails to Bouchard and she accused Bouchard of sending them on to Savage. She also accused Bouchard of illegal activity she said she learned about after her relationship with him. She asked for him to be removed as mayor.

“I just felt like I had to,” she said.

The council had no public response.

Bouchard was not at the meeting because he was in Florida after the death of a relative.

After her comments to the council, Berube spoke briefly with Lewiston Police Chief Brian O’Malley.

The chief said Wednesday his officers would like to talk with Berube to get more information about the alleged illegal activities she referenced to the council. Berube said she expects to talk with the police Thursday.

She said the idea to go public was her own.

“I just need to make it right with my city and the voters,” she said.

Chin, who is now deputy director of the Maine People’s Alliance, did not return a message seeking comment Wednesday.

Bouchard, speaking from the car while traveling home from Florida, called Berube’s public allegations “a political hit job.” He pointed out he will be up for re-election in November and he believes his rivals are behind the allegations.

He admitted Tuesday to receiving the campaign emails from Berube, but he said Wednesday “that’s been well-known by pretty much everybody. I didn’t send them to Jason Savage, but even if I did, it’s not illegal, it’s not even questionable.”

Leaking emails to people outside of a campaign is likely legal. Forwarding email is not the same as hacking a candidate’s account, which is a crime, because the messages were obtained legitimately by their recipients.

In politics, it is not uncommon for insiders to share campaign-related emails with others, though handing them over to an opponent is rare.

Bouchard denied Wednesday that an affair ever took place. He said rumors of an alleged affair floated around last August and he addressed them with his family and colleagues at the time.

“I’ve considered the issue closed since then,” he said.

The Maine Democratic Party filed an ethics complaint about the Maine Examiner last year, alleging that it broke campaign finance rules by serving as a GOP scandal sheet without citing its contributors or owner.

Kate Knox, a Democratic lawyer, told the commission the Examiner’s stories about Chin may have been “fundamental to the fact that Ben Chin lost” and certainly played “a big part” in the final days of the race.

The Maine Ethics Commission opted last February not to pursue an investigation.

* Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated Berube sent Chin’s emails to Bouchard’s business email address. After the story was posted online late Wednesday night, Berube researched her email history and clarified that the emails were sent to Bouchard’s campaign email address.

Staff Writer Christopher Williams contributed to this report.

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