Maine: Crystal meth resurfaces as increasingly deadly threat

A highly pure form of the drug has been flowing into the region, raising fears about overdoses and violence.

Two types of methamphetamine have found their way into Maine: on the left, a high purity crystalline form and, on the right, a pill form, photographed Friday at the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency in Portland.

Two types of methamphetamine have found their way into Maine: on the left, a high purity crystalline form and, on the right, a pill form, photographed Friday at the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency in Portland.

Highly pure crystal methamphetamine is flowing into Maine and New England at an unprecedented rate, alarming police and substance abuse recovery advocates who say the drug has contributed to added violence at Portland’s homeless shelter and an increasing number of overdose deaths statewide.

Front-line workers at the Oxford Street Shelter have in recent months seen an uptick of violent interactions with people who they suspect are using crystal meth, leading to injuries of staff and guests at the 154-bed facility. Next week, staff will receive more training to help handle the unpredictable behavior that follows methamphetamine use.

“At the shelter, we’ve seen a drastic shift over the last year,” said Aaron Guyer, Portland’s social services administrator. “What we’ve seen really is an increase of erratic and violent behavior.”

Criminal trespass notices, which can temporarily bar someone from the shelter for up to a year for breaking shelter rules, have increased 50 percent from 2018, and about half of the notices were for assault on a guest or a staffer, according to statistics released by the city.

Statewide, overdose deaths attributed to methamphetamine are also on the rise. Last year, 26 people died of methamphetamine-related overdoses, or 10 more than in 2017. In the first quarter of 2019, the latest period for which data are available, methamphetamine killed eight people and accounted for 11 percent of all drug-related deaths in that period, according to the Office of the Attorney General.

The violent outbursts that meth produces are a product of how the drug affects the body, doctors say. While heroin and fentanyl depress central nervous system and respiratory activity, methamphetamine is a powerful synthetic stimulant that rapidly produces feelings of euphoria followed by hours of energetic, obsessive behavior that can lead to hallucinations and psychosis. Users sometimes stay awake for days or weeks at a time; with extreme, long-term use of methamphetamine, drug-induced psychosis can be permanent.

“Everything is on edge and ready to go,” said Dr. Jonathan Fellers, an addiction medicine psychiatrist and medical director at Crossroads addiction treatment center who treats people with methamphetamine use disorder. “It can also lead to paranoid thinking and hallucinations, so people can misperceive what is going on around them, and maybe even act on that. People become very suspicious.”

For a 38-year-old Portland resident, Matt, methamphetamine use produced a delusion that he was doing fine and was in control of his life, when the reality was far different.

“I hadn’t worked in three months, I was about to be evicted and I lost 50 pounds,” said Matt, who asked that only his first name be used for fear he would face discrimination for his past drug use. “I could not come to grips with the truth that once I started (using) I lost my power of choice.”

Matt said his drug addiction began with pharmaceuticals that were prescribed to him by a doctor, and his first exposure to stimulants was in college, when a fraternity brother gave him Adderall, which is prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. He used it to stay awake for five days during their pledge week.

Matt said he has been trying to stay clean since a family intervention in 2010 and is currently 17 months drug-free. He came to Portland in the summer of 2018 for recovery after he overdosed on a drug cocktail that included methamphetamine, heroin and other drugs. He said he’s been able to stay sober with the help of a 12-step program and now works professionally to help other people in recovery.

There are many others like him in the state. When Matt arrived in Portland in 2018, there was no meeting in Maine for people recovering from methamphetamine addiction.

“I contacted Crystal Meth Anonymous, and they said the closest was in New Hampshire,” Matt recalled.

Now, at the Portland Recovery Community Center on Forest Avenue, the crystal meth/amphetamine meetings are the fastest-growing 12-step recovery group offered by PRCC, which often hosts meetings with 50 people, said executive director Leslie Clark.

“It’s challenging because it’s just a terrible drug,” Clark said. “The impact on people physically and on their brain, the kind of psychosis and violence is more unique.”

Besides an increase in violence at the shelter, methamphetamine use has been linked to a recent high-profile assault. In July, a 37-year-old Bridgton man was reportedly high on methamphetamine and had been awake for at least two days when he beat and stabbed a couple in their 70s inside their lakefront home, nearly killing them. Police at the time did not identify a motivation for the attack, and it was unclear whether the alleged perpetrator knew the victims.

That same month, police in Portland said a man who was high on methamphetamine was hallucinating when he jumped into Portland Harbor to “cool off” before officers wrangled him out of the water unharmed. And in June, officers seized 112 grams of the drug during a traffic stop in the Bayside neighborhood and charged a Westbrook man with felony drug possession; the same man was arrested again in July, also in Bayside, with 56 grams of meth and a loaded Glock handgun.

And last month, Maine Drug Enforcement Agency officers charged a Brunswick man with transporting 108 grams of crystal methamphetamine to Maine from Boston on an Amtrak train.

Users of the drug pay $80 to $100 per gram, according to the MDEA. That’s typically enough for someone to get high a couple of times, but everyone’s response to drugs is different. The cost is on par with other stimulants, such as crack and powder cocaine.

The crystals, which also are sold in pill form, can be crushed into powder and then snorted, smoked or injected. Users can become addicted quickly, seeking more of the drug to avoid the crash that comes when it wears off.

Police say the drug is flowing into the United States from Mexico, where drug cartels produce vast quantities using industrial-scale equipment, making a crystalline product that is more potent than that produced by the “one pot” method of making methamphetamine at home.

After the drugs are smuggled from Mexico across the Southwest border, Dominican street gangs in Boston, Lawrence and Lowell, Massachusetts, as well as Bridgeport, Connecticut, distribute them to midlevel dealers throughout New England, according to an annual report produced by the MDEA.

“It’s the same network, transportation and all, that brings us heroin, fentanyl and cocaine,” said MDEA director Roy McKinney. “Out West, they’ve been battling it for a long time. In New England, we’re seeing more of that over the last few years.”

As importation of the higher-quality drug from Mexico has increased, police have seen a decline in homemade meth production, in which over-the-counter cold medicine, pseudoephedrine and household chemicals are combined in a violent reaction. That method can produce about an ounce of methamphetamine at one time, McKinney said, and the quality is often lower than the Mexican cartel version.

MDEA agents responded to 126 meth labs or meth lab dump sites in 2016, the highest number recorded in a single year. In 2017, agents found 58 labs, and in 2018, the number declined to 51 labs, according to the drug agency. So far this year, MDEA agents have responded to 33 labs and are tracking toward another annual decline.

In the same period, seizures of the purer form of meth have increased. In 2017, MDEA agents initiated 103 meth-related investigations and seized 5.6 ounces of the drug, an amount smaller than a can of soda. Last year, agents initiated about the same number of investigations – 105 – but seized 9.9 pounds of methamphetamine, including a single seizure of more than 4.5 pounds.

Through the end of September of this year, MDEA agents had initiated 60 meth-related investigations and recovered 3.3 pounds of the drug, according to the agency.

Maine: Depraved fisherman found guilty in dog’s death that angered Down East community

The dog’s body floated ashore in Hancock in the summer of 2018.

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Justin Chipman, 24 and Nathan Burke, 39. Two very evil men.

ELLSWORTH — A Steuben man was found guilty of aggravated animal cruelty Thursday for the August 2018 death of a Boston terrier-pug named Franky that belonged to the defendant’s former boss, a Winter Harbor lobsterman.

The dog was missing for days when its body, wrapped in plastic, washed up across Frenchman Bay onto a private beach at the coastal home of Hancock County District Attorney Matt Foster. Franky’s death mystified and angered the Down East community of Winter Harbor, which lies on the Schoodic Peninsula east of Bar Harbor.

Franky died of a gunshot wound to the throat, according to a report submitted into evidence, Deputy District Attorney Toff Toffolon said.

Justin Chipman, 24, was found guilty of aggravated cruelty to animals, burglary, theft by unauthorized taking or transfer and unauthorized use of property in the daylong trial. A sentencing date was not known Thursday.

Defense attorney Robert Van Horn motioned for acquittal before closing statements.

Ultimately, Justice Robert Murray denied acquittal for four of the charges but granted the acquittal for the charge of aggravated criminal mischief.

The criminal mischief complaint was connected with damage done to the Hummer of Phil Torrey, Franky’s owner. The state did not introduce evidence that the vehicle had sustained $2,000 worth of damage.

Van Horn cited a lack of “direct evidence” tying his client to any of the crimes.

Toffolon advised the judge that circumstantial evidence could be considered and that the amount of circumstantial evidence in this case was “substantial.”

Toffolon cited Chipman’s departure from the area within a day of authorities discovering the dead dog.

“Where is Mr. Chipman? He’s fled to Bangor and secured a hotel room, where he stays until Sept. 2,” Toffolon said.

Toffolon said Chipman had motive to kill Franky because Chipman’s dog and Franky had an altercation two weeks earlier.

Chipman and co-defendant Nathan Burke, 39, were aware that Torrey and his family would be out of town because Torrey had invited them along and they declined, the prosecutor said.

Burke’s case is still pending.

Maine: Some lawyers for the poor may be (insanely) over-billing, but oversight is lax

Potential overbilling and a lack of visibility into the hours worked by lawyers defending Maine’s poor have sparked multiple state investigations.

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BY SAMANTHA HOGAN, PINE TREE WATCH

Maine spent more than $21 million to provide free lawyers to its poor in 2018, but the state’s oversight of the spending was so lax that they paid some attorneys as if they worked more than 80 hours a week for the entire year.

A three-month investigation by Pine Tree Watch into the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services found that attorneys’ invoices are frequently incorrect, resulting in them often being overpaid for representing Maine’s poor. For nine years, the commission’s director has uncovered these inaccuracies on a daily basis, but he did not change how attorney payments are approved even as the agency’s spending nearly doubled.

Lawmakers began to question the commission’s financial oversight this year after a report by the nonpartisan Sixth Amendment Center revealed that 33 attorneys could have overcharged the state $2.2 million between 2014 and 2018 by billing hours that greatly exceeded full-time work.

The highest-paid attorney was Amy Fairfield, who personally billed the state $275,612 in fiscal year 2018. At the state’s flat $60-an-hour rate for court-appointed attorneys, that would mean she worked approximately 88 hours a week, excluding a small amount of expenses.

The commission’s executive director, John Pelletier, said what Fairfield was paid in fiscal year 2018 was not the result of overbilling but reflects the cumulative work of multiple attorneys at her law firm who worked on her cases and billed under her name.

The commission instituted an automated alert system in June to detect when lawyers invoiced the state for an excessive number of hours. In just four months, the system triggered more than 800 alerts when attorneys appeared to have overbilled, including several days in which a lawyer claimed to have worked more than 24 hours in a single day.

Maine is the only state that does not have a public defender office staffed by its own attorneys. Defendants who cannot afford to hire a lawyer instead rely on the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services, which oversees private attorneys who are assigned to represent the poor in criminal, juvenile and child protection cases.

The Sixth Amendment Center report set off a chain of inquiries by lawmakers, with Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Oxford, at the forefront of the push to investigate.

Since 2016, Keim has filled a blue, three-ring binder with a stack of research on the “opaque” billing practices of the commission. In February, she asked the Government Oversight committee to open an investigation into whether attorneys were falsifying their hours, and pointed to Fairfield’s earnings in 2018 as a concern.

The Government Oversight Committee unanimously agreed to have the state’s independent Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, known as OPEGA, begin a review in April. They are scheduled to meet again on Dec. 10 to consider whether to launch a deeper investigation.

BANKING ON MANY HOURS

For nearly a decade, Pelletier and Ellie Maciag, the commission’s deputy director, have approved payments to defense attorneys based on the average time it took other lawyers to complete case tasks and what they called a “feel” for the expected time a case should take.

However, in July 2010, the commission’s first operational report pointed out that reviewing payments by case alone left the agency blind to the total hours attorneys billed each day. The report suggested a timesheet be added so attorneys could track their daily hours worked across multiple cases. The commission wanted the change made by that fall, but nine years later, it has not been implemented.

The blind spot in the commission’s understanding of attorney billing became apparent this summer when a new alert system to detect when lawyers billed 12 or more hours went live and flagged more than 800 days that attorneys could have overbilled.

Twenty-seven percent of the alerts trace back to Fairfield & Associates, which Amy Fairfield opened in 2004.

In fiscal year 2018, Fairfield & Associates, which has multiple offices in Maine, billed $1.46 million as the state’s largest provider of court-appointed counsel. One of the highest-billing associates at the law firm, Kevin Moynihan, racked up more alerts than any other attorney in the state during the first four months of the new system coming online.

Invoices that Moynihan submitted in June triggered alerts on 93 days when his daily workload exceeded the system’s 12-hour limit. This included his highest billed day on Aug. 13, 2018, when he invoiced the state more than 21 hours on 40 cases.

When reached in October, Moynihan told Pine Tree Watch that he worked the hours billed on the cases, but that some hours were invoiced on incorrect days by staff at Fairfield & Associates.

Moynihan left Fairfield & Associates for a job at the Cumberland County District Attorney’s office in late June as the commission’s alert system was being rolled out. He was able to check only a few of the alerts before he was locked out of the firm’s email and internal billing system where his hours were stored.

The alert system was implemented at the recommendation of Pelletier and Maciag, and was the first major change in nine years to how attorney hours were monitored by the agency. A proposal to add a timesheet is also pending with the independent board of commissioners that advises the state agency. Pelletier said a timesheet would be beneficial and could limit mistakes.

A Pine Tree Watch review of attorneys’ explanations to the high-hour alerts revealed multiple instances in which lawyers found they had billed the state twice for the same work, forgotten decimal places or recorded tasks on the wrong day, which required their future bills to be adjusted for the overpayment.

When asked to explain the high volume of alerts, Pelletier said they were not indicative of intentional overbilling.

“We’re finding errors in the billing, and some reflect work that’s done and some is work that was not done — but it’s accidental,” Pelletier said.

Attorneys had not responded to 46 percent of the alerts by the first week of October, which meant the commission had no explanation for the high number of hours billed. Pelletier says he has monitored attorney responses and requested explanations when he felt the attorney did not provide enough information.

“We’re finding some people who worked very long days,” Pelletier said. “When they write and explain what the 16 hours was composed of, it’s credible to me.”

But Pelletier has dismissed multiple overbilling concerns raised by Lynne Nash, the commission’s accountant technician, in the nine years they have worked together. Nash said she brought law firms, attorneys and experts whom she suspected of overcharging the commission to Pelletier’s attention.

Pelletier said he scrutinizes some of the invoices Nash flags, but that there are times when he finds the charges to be reasonable when Nash does not. That includes the findings of the Sixth Amendment Center report.

The Sixth Amendment Center was hired in March 2018 at the recommendation of a legislative group led by Keim to evaluate the commission and make recommendations on how it could better guarantee counsel to all people accused of a crime and at risk of serving jail time. The report uncovered multiple systemic problems with Maine’s ability to provide defense and the potential over-billing problem.

In July 2018, after releasing new data on attorneys’ annual billings to the Sixth Amendment Center, Pelletier immediately opened an investigation into the billing practices of all attorneys who billed $150,000 or more a year from the commission. He met behind closed doors with three commissioners about his findings, records show, but his only public conclusion was that there was no evidence of fraud or a need for disciplinary action.

“I’ve determined that there won’t be any sanction or discipline among the lawyers that I looked at, because I didn’t find conduct that was worthy of that,” Pelletier told Pine Tree Watch.

According to Nash, the decision not to sanction any of the attorneys was an accountability failure by the commission.

“I’ve lost a lot of respect for John Pelletier,” Nash said. “I would like to see someone put in place that is held accountable for the expenditures going through that agency, because right now it’s just not happening.”

MAINE’S HIGHEST-BILLING FIRM

The only person making more money at Fairfield & Associates by representing Maine’s poor defendants when Moynihan left was its founder and CEO, Amy Fairfield.

Pelletier told lawmakers that the $275,612 Fairfield billed in fiscal year 2018 was proper because it reflected the work of multiple lawyers at Fairfield & Associates and not Fairfield alone.

However, Pelletier did not mention in his letter to lawmakers that four attorneys at Fairfield & Associates, who shared at least some of Amy Fairfield’s cases, were also among the highest billers in the state that year and were pegged for potentially overbilling in the Sixth Amendment Center report. Fairfield & Associates was the only law firm to have multiple attorneys flagged for potentially overbilling the state every fiscal year between 2014 and 2018.

Time – billed in increments of one-tenth of an hour – constitutes the majority of an attorney’s invoice to the commission. Certain costs for collect calls, travel and copying of more than 100 pages can also be reimbursed, but they make up substantially less of an attorney’s billings from the commission.

In addition to Fairfield and Moynihan, Fairfield & Associates attorneys Sarah Branch ($132,000), Cory McKenna ($137,000) and Rick Winling ($143,000) each billed the state above what would be expected had they worked 40 hours a week all 52 weeks in fiscal year 2018.

Fairfield declined multiple requests for comment on her law firm’s billing practices.

McKenna left Fairfield & Associates on Sept. 12 and joined McKenna Deschuytner, PLLC, in Portland. McKenna said he earned about $67,000 last year, which is substantially less than the $137,363 that commission records show he billed the state for defending Maine’s poor.

“Even if I earned $137,000, that would probably be what it would cost to support a law practice dedicated to criminal defense, when you factor in all the expenses from office space, equipment, services, staff, health care, retirement, etc.,” McKenna wrote in an email on Nov. 12.

“It is my understanding that Maine is unique in the nation in that it does not have any public defender system. It provides extremely high quality defense to the poor solely through private attorneys who agree to work on matters for a third to a fourth of their normal rates,” he added.

To understand how the lawyers at Fairfield & Associates could have profited from the defense of Maine’s poor, Pine Tree Watch analyzed invoices and case files of former clients of Fairfield & Associates, three years of commission payments, and five years of financial data that underpinned the Sixth Amendment Center report.

However, there is no public information currently available that describes in detail the number of hours each of the attorneys at Fairfield & Associates actually worked during the 2018 fiscal year.

Pelletier denied a public records request by Pine Tree Watch for a report of attorneys’ daily hours, saying it was a confidential piece of his 2018 investigation into attorney billing practices.

The annual earnings of each attorney can only be used as an approximation of how much time they worked during the fiscal year, because attorneys at Fairfield & Associates completed work on cases assigned to other attorneys at the law firm and didn’t always bill under their own names.

In some instances, the court-assigned attorney at Fairfield & Associates would do little to no work at all on a case that carried their name, Pelletier said.

“We knew on a regular basis that there were cases where the name of the assigned counsel was not the person doing most of the work on the case,” Pelletier said.

The most notable example came while Amy Fairfield worked on a post-conviction review for Anthony Sanborn Jr., who was sentenced in 1993 to 70 years in Maine State Prison for the murder of his girlfriend Jessica Briggs when they were both 16.

According to Pelletier, nearly every case that Fairfield was assigned by the courts — while she was working on the Sanborn case — was completed by other attorneys at her office.

Pine Tree Watch obtained through a public records request the invoice that Fairfield & Associates submitted for the Sanborn case, which showed that Amy Fairfield spent more than 2,113 hours between May 2016 and April 2017 working on the case. It was the first post-conviction review that Fairfield had ever completed.

“The material was dense and a lot of it did not make sense. I quickly learned that it was not supposed to (make sense) because it was a bull (expletive) prosecution that yielded a verdict that no one in their right mind could have confidence in,” Fairfield wrote to Pelletier in her explanation of the case’s costs.

Fairfield spent 423 hours reviewing discovery and another 208 hours reviewing the transcript of Sanborn’s original trial, which was more than 1,800 pages long.

A deal with prosecutors in November 2017 freed Sanborn on time-served while maintaining his murder conviction, the Portland Press Herald reported.

The maximum fee a court-appointed attorney can charge for a post-conviction review is $1,200, according to the commission’s rules. In June 2018, Maine taxpayers paid Fairfield $130,432 for Sanborn’s case. It is the most expensive single invoice and post-conviction review ever paid out by the commission.

“Working with Tony Sanborn enriched my life in many ways,” Fairfield wrote. “Working on his case illuminated a lot of ugly truths. The hours contained herein are probably far less than I actually worked. Many nights I would get a couple of hours of sleep and then get right up and start reading and analyzing right where I left off. It was an insatiable desire to achieve justice for a wonderful human being that had been tossed away as a street kid who nobody really cared about anyway.

“Words cannot describe the time and effort that went into this case. Please know that I will happily accept whatever MCILS deems appropriate for compensation. I know the bill is sizable; we did, however, take on an empire.”

Fairfield’s work on the Sanborn case, however, accounts for less than half of the $275,612 she billed in fiscal year 2018 and leaves an estimated 46 hours a week unaccounted for in the remaining $145,180 billed under her name that year.

Co-chairs of the Government Oversight Committee Sen. Justin Chenette, D-York, and Rep. Anne-Marie Mastraccio, D-Sanford, declined to comment on the ongoing investigation into the commission and its payments to attorneys beyond saying that the vote to initiate a review in April, itself, was a comment on the situation, Mastraccio said.

The scope of the OPEGA investigation has not yet been defined. But Keim said determining the culpability of attorneys and staff who allegedly overbilled will eventually be necessary.

“If you lead an organization you always have to be willing to say the buck stops here. If you’re willing to say I’m the executive director of this organization, you have to be willing to say whatever goes wrong in that organization is on my shoulders. And I know that the people of Maine pay (Pelletier) to take it on his shoulders,” Keim said.

ACCOUNTANT TECHNICIAN FLAGS BILLS

Each morning, an email arrives in Lynne Nash’s inbox with the total amount of money her bosses approved the day before. It’s been her job as the commission’s accountant technician since June 2010 to make sure the information on how much attorneys are paid flows into the state’s accounting system.

Any time the daily payment exceeds $60,000, Nash said she begins to question the accuracy of what has been approved and sometimes opens a detailed list of the invoices. That’s how she became wary of what Fairfield & Associates was billing.

“There’s a high-billing firm that needs a full-blown audit, and I’ve requested this of management numerous times for many years now,” said Nash, referring to Fairfield & Associates.

However, her requests for an audit never went anywhere, even after she brought her concerns to Chair Steven Carey of the agency’s independent board of commissioners. Carey did not respond to multiple calls requesting comment from Pine Tree Watch.

On Oct. 30, 2018, Nash went above Pelletier and emailed the state commissioner of finance, the controller and later the state auditor requesting they look into how attorneys were billing the commission.

“Any concerns regarding improper billing practices for Indigent Legal Services, or in any other area, would have been taken seriously, reviewed with the appropriate Department professionals, and addressed accordingly,” former Commissioner of Finance Alec Porteous said in an email in October.

As it turned out, potential vulnerabilities in the commission’s invoicing system, Defender Data, were already being reviewed by the Office of the State Controller when Nash’s email arrived, said State Controller Doug Cotnoir, who has overseen the financial management of the state since 2012.

His office released a report on March 14 that found the commission lacked written control procedures and had multiple other system vulnerabilities that the controller’s office identified as risks. The details of the report were heavily redacted for security purposes before it was publicly released.

In an unredacted section of the report, the controller’s office concluded that the commission was properly processing payments. An audit team reviewed a random sample of 40 invoices and found the commission was paying the correct vendor in amounts that matched the hours billed.

The report did not look into the accuracy of the individual charges on the invoices. It is Pelletier’s responsibility — not the controller’s — to confirm that the work paid for was rendered, Cotnoir said.

“We don’t do performance reviews on our side, and that is where we cross into where OPEGA comes into the picture,” Cotnoir said. “We try not to step on each other’s toes. I don’t want to compromise any work that they’re going to be doing and they try not to compromise any work that we may have underway.”

Whether attorneys are billing for work they actually performed is a question of performance, which would be appropriate for OPEGA to look into, he said.

The controller’s office provided its complete findings to OPEGA, and handed off control of any further review to the independent agency, Cotnoir said.

Members of OPEGA’s staff visited the commission and met with Pelletier, Maciag and Nash in early November, Pelletier said. OPEGA has also interviewed several of the commission’s employees and Pelletier twice, he said.

The volume of invoices Pelletier and Maciag can review in a day varies widely depending if the Legislature is in session — when Pelletier is frequently away from the office at the Capitol — and how close it is to the end of the financial quarter, when there is a push to make payments. Both overlap each March.

March 27, 2017, sticks out in particular. Records show 606 attorney invoices were reviewed and approved for payment that Monday, sometime between Friday and Sunday at the end of a busy legislative week, which included multiple committee meetings that Pelletier was known to attend.

Maciag estimated that she and Pelletier spend on average between one and two minutes with an invoice before it’s approved.

But spending just two minutes with each of the 606 invoices would have taken more than 20 hours.

Pelletier said the 606 invoices — worth $368,098 — were approved over a three-day period. Pelletier and Maciag both reviewed vouchers on Friday, and Pelletier worked Saturday and Sunday to review and approve the rest.

This would have been a break from the usual practice as Pelletier acknowledged he rarely worked weekends. Maciag also was about to take time off for maternity leave.

“You have to wonder how accurate the review process was to accumulate that amount of money in one day. Even with two people,” Nash said.

In all, Pelletier and Maciag reviewed and approved 3,266 attorney invoices, worth more than $1.9 million, in March 2017.

Multiple lawmakers, defense attorneys and advocates interviewed by Pine Tree Watch also raised concern with Pelletier dividing his work day between completing tasks for the commission and a volunteer role as chair of the state’s Criminal Law Advisory Commission, or CLAC.

Since 1997, Pelletier has served as chairman of CLAC, which makes annual recommendations to state lawmakers on possible changes to Maine’s criminal code. Pelletier regularly attends legislative meetings and speaks on behalf of CLAC.

In January 2010, Pelletier was hired as executive director of the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services, which has not taken positions on policy matters before the state Legislature in the past.

CLAC meets approximately every other week while the Legislature is in session, Pelletier said. When he is at the state Capitol during the session, it is generally on behalf of CLAC, he said.

Pelletier would tell the office staff, “Thursday was a CLAC day,” Nash recalled, “So we knew Thursday, Friday were pretty much dead in the water.

“Any time there is anything in the Legislature’s schedule to do with CLAC, any type of bill, he’s up over the hill … there speaking on the behalf of CLAC. Sometimes it can be daily. It can be anywhere from an hour to an all day,” Nash said.

Pelletier’s job with the commission was salaried at $121,800, including benefits, in fiscal year 2018. Pelletier said he did not take vacation or sick time to speak on behalf of CLAC.
“My work at the commission gets done,” Pelletier said.

CATCHING BAD BILLING

On at least two known occasions, Pelletier and Maciag’s review process has failed to immediately catch overbilling.

The most recent example was uncovered during Pelletier’s investigation of attorney billing practices in the summer of 2018. A lawyer, whose identity is confidential by law, was caught double-billing the commission for his and a staff member’s time.

Pelletier said he would not have been able to identify the overbilling through his regular review process, and it required looking at the attorney’s annual earnings to uncover the pattern of overbilling.

The lawyer is expected to make a “substantial” reimbursement to the commission for the incorrect invoices, Pelletier said. The amount of the reimbursement has not been finalized and has not yet occurred.

The other instance of overbilling spanned the first four years of the commission’s operation.

Aaron Fethke, an attorney with a practice in Searsport, aggregated the hours he worked on multiple days and billed them as one, which resulted in more than 24 hours being billed on a single day, according to disciplinary documents with the Board of Overseers of the Bar.

Because the automated alert system was not in place at the time, Pelletier was not immediately aware that this was happening. Instead, it was the unusually high number of hours that Fethke was billing to review discovery and other tasks that tipped off Pelletier that Fethke’s invoices may have been inflated.

Fethke billed $194,488 representing Maine’s poor in fiscal year 2014, which was more than any other attorney. The following fiscal year, he billed $160,086 and was the second-highest-paid attorney behind only Amy Fairfield.

On July 10, 2015, Pelletier filed a complaint with the Board of Overseers of the Bar on the grounds that Fethke was misrepresenting the time he spent on cases, and overbilling the commission for his work. He suspended Fethke from the state’s list of eligible attorneys for court appointments.

In January 2017, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ordered that Fethke be suspended from practicing law for four months for his violation of the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct and the Maine Bar Rules. But while the court found Fethke’s billing practices to be “unorthodox and inappropriate,” they did not determine that he had intentionally overbilled the commission. Fethke did not repay the commission.

“Looking back on it, we probably could have heightened the scrutiny at an earlier time, but we did when we did,” Pelletier said.

But even after Fethke’s discipline case showed the commission’s system Defender Data could be exploited to overbill the state, Pelletier and Maciag did not change their invoice review process.

“Why in 2014 when they knew that Defender Data allowed an attorney to bill over 24 hours in a day, why at that time did they not think outside the box and say we need — as we now have in place — this alert system? How many millions of dollars do you suppose the taxpayers have lost?” Nash said.

The proposed rule to add a timesheet to track attorney hours is awaiting approval by the commission’s new board of commissioners, Pelletier said. Lawmakers restructured the commission in 2018 and replaced the three existing commissioners with a nine-member board.

The new commissioners were confirmed by the state Senate this year and began meeting in August. They will host a public hearing on the findings of the Sixth Amendment Center report at 9 a.m. on Nov. 19 at the Capitol.

Lawmaker Keim said she cannot read the Sixth Amendment Center report without concluding there had to be a breakdown in oversight within the commission.

The data on attorney earnings were at the executive director’s fingertips, but he hadn’t looked at it until the researchers requested it, Keim said.

“I think we need to clean house,” Keim said. “The only way you rebuild the system and have faith in it is if you make sure you get rid of people that didn’t have the integrity in the first place.”

Vermont man gets probation, fine for buying Maine pot

Charles Caliri, 71, of Woodstock, told the judge he had “no excuses” for his actions.

2019-11-01

PORTLAND — A federal judge sentenced a Vermont man Wednesday to three years of probation and fined him $10,000 for buying a kilo of marijuana in Lewiston to distribute to friends in Vermont.

Charles Caliri, 71, of Woodstock, Vermont, told U.S. District Court Judge George Z. Singal he was “ashamed” and “humiliated” and that he had “no excuses” for his actions.

“I broke the law and I’m guilty of that,” he said.

Caliri had been charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. He pleaded guilty in July.

He said he suffers from anxiety and hasn’t slept well over the past year since he was charged with the Class D felony.

Rather than buying his pot in Vermont legally, he said he’d hoped to save some money by coming to Maine.

“I will never, ever do it again,” he told the judge. “It’s been a rude awakening.”

Judge Singal told the time-share salesman that just because he was aware that others had done something similar, didn’t make it right.

“Everybody does it” and “It’s a stupid rule” are childish sayings, Singal said. “We have to set an example for younger people,” he said, noting the defendant was around his age.

Singal said Caliri had been “dumb” by making a deal “with a bunch of criminals” and that by giving them money, he was assisting them to “do worse things.”

His attorney, Peter Rodway, told the judge that marijuana has become widely accepted in society and increasingly legalized throughout the country.

“I guess that’s what bootleggers were saying when they were prosecuted under federal law” during Prohibition, Singal said, adding most states have not decriminalized the drug.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Joyce wrote in court papers that a car with Vermont plates was spotted leaving the Sabattus Street home of Richard “Stitch” Daniels in February 2018. A Maine State Police trooper stopped the car in New Gloucester. Police found a “distributable amount” of marijuana and $18,000 in the car.

Daniels, who was charged after a Feb. 27, 2018, raid in the Twin Cities area by drug agents and police that ensnared more than a dozen suspects, including businesses, is expected to plead guilty to drug charges next week in federal court.

Joyce wrote that a drug trafficking organization cultivated marijuana at numerous locations in Androscoggin County under the guise of Maine’s medical marijuana program, including sales to out-of-state customers. The organization also grew marijuana for making butane hash oil illegally. Daniels was a member of the group that was distributing marijuana illegally, Joyce wrote.

Maine: Trial begins for Justin T. Chipman, accused of kidnapping and killing Franky, a terrier-pug

Franky, a 6-year-old mix, belonged to Phillip Torrey of Winter Harbor. The dog’s body floated ashore in Hancock in the summer of 2018.

 

ELLSWORTH — The trial of one of the men accused of aggravated cruelty to animals in the death of Boston terrier-pug Franky, whose body washed up at the shorefront home of the district attorney last year is scheduled to start Thursday, Nov. 14.

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Justin T. Chipman, 24 and Nathan Burke, 39. Two very evil men.

Justin T. Chipman, 24, of Steuben also has been indicted on charges of aggravated criminal mischief, burglary and theft by unauthorized taking or transfer and unauthorized use of property.

As of this week, no information was available on the case status of Chipman’s co-defendant Nathan Burke, 39, of Hancock.

In arrest warrant affidavits for Burke and Chipman, Winter Harbor Police Officer Eli Brown said Burke and Chipman burglarized Phil Torrey’s home on Aug. 24, 2018 and kidnapped his dog Franky, which was later found dead.

The dog’s body, which had been wrapped in plastic, floated to Hancock County District Attorney Matt Foster’s shorefront property in Hancock on Aug. 30, 2018. Brown stated in the affidavit that Franky had been shot in the throat.

Officer Brown said Burke, who was Torrey’s former sternman, and Chipman entered Torrey’s home, kidnapped Franky and took Torrey’s Hummer for a ride to a gravel pit, according to the affidavit.

Maine: Death of missing Westbrook man Henry Jacques, 45, not considered suspicious by police

The body of Henry Jacques, 45, was found Tuesday afternoon after he went missing Nov. 8 from his apartment.

The death of a Westbrook man who was found dead four days after he went missing from his apartment is not considered suspicious, Westbrook police said.

Henry Jacques, 45, was last seen at 55 Brown St., Apt. 2, at approximately 3 p.m. by his girlfriend, according to the Maine State Police Major Crimes Unit, which assisted Westbrook police with the investigation. Jacques shared the apartment with his girlfriend and a roommate.

His body was found Tuesday afternoon in the woods behind Saint Anthony’s Church on Brown Street in Westbrook, police said.

An autopsy was conducted Wednesday by the office of the Chief Medical Examiner, but further tests are required before pathologists can determine the cause and manner of death, said Westbrook Police Capt. Steven Goldberg.

(how can we yet know then if his death was suspicious or not? – S.)

Westbrook, Maine: Have you seen this missing man?

Police are asking the public’s help locating a Westbrook man who left his apartment without any shoes on.

State police and officers from Westbrook are asking the public to be on the lookout for a missing man who left his apartment on Brown Street on Friday and has not been seen since.

Henry Jacques, 45, was last seen leaving his apartment about 3 p.m., wearing blue jeans, multiple layers of shirts and no shoes. He shares the apartment with a live-in girlfriend and a roommate, but he has not returned home.

 

Jacques stands about 5’9″ tall, weighs about 200 lbs., and has blonde hair and blue eyes.

Anyone who sees Jacques or has information about his whereabouts should call Westbrook police at 854-0394, or the Maine State Police at 624-7076.