A priest who has been serving St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Augusta is on administrative leave after police charged him and two inmates at a regional jail with trafficking drugs there.

Meanwhile, a retired Augusta minister said she warned the priest not to initiate the friendship with one of the inmates he’s accused of giving drugs to.

The Rev. Stephen Foote, 70, of Bremen, faces a Class C charge of trafficking in prison contraband at Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday. Charged with Class D counts of attempted trafficking in prison contraband are jail inmates Joshua Theriault-Patten, 25, of Bremen, and Adam Shawley, 27, of Newport.

Authorities said the arrests and charges stemmed from a joint, monthlong investigation involving the sheriff’s office, the jail and the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency.

Foote and the two inmates were arrested Nov. 1 on charges that they trafficked the drug suboxone, a synthetic opiate typically used to ease symptoms of opiate addiction, but also can be abused.

Foote was arrested and released on unsecured bail, while Theriault-Patten and Shawley were already in custody.

The Episcopal Diocese of Maine in Portland released a statement Wednesday saying the office was notified of Foote’s arrest on the afternoon of Nov. 1, the day of the arrest.

The Right Rev. Stephen T. Lane, the diocese’s bishop, “receives this news with sadness and deep concern, and requests that Maine Episcopalians keep all parties in their prayers as we move through these difficult days,” according to the statement.

“This is a sad event and quite unusual,” Lane said in an interview Wednesday.

A message left for Foote at his home was not returned immediately. Foote’s attorney, Newcastle attorney William Avantaggio, declined to comment.

Class C crimes, such as the count Foote faces, are punishable by up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine, according to the Office of the Maine Attorney General’s website.

‘Thought he was helping’

In an interview Wednesday, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Lt. Michael Murphy said Theriault-Patten had been a parishioner of Foote’s in the past and the priest often visited him in jail — sometimes simply visiting, but sometimes taking him suboxone. Murphy said Shawley didn’t know Foote, but he associated with Theriault-Patten in jail.

“The inmates in the jail arranged for it to be sent to Mr. Foote, and he took it from there,” Murphy said. Murphy said the inmates were using the drugs in jail, not distributing them.

The sheriff’s office seized 10 suboxone strips, valued at about $500 in jail, Murphy said. He didn’t have details about how the drugs got past security there, and a Two Bridges Jail administrator wouldn’t discuss case specifics, saying generally that different types of visits call for different levels of security.

Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty said if drugs make it into his county jail, they also typically aren’t distributed.

“Most of the time, they’ll use it for themselves,” he said. “What they most fear is coming off that opiate addiction — getting those flu-like symptoms.”

He said after all contact visits, Kennebec County jail officials strip-search inmates.

Often, he said, drugs aren’t smuggled in by visitors, but they’re dropped outside the jail, where members of kitchen work crews can get to them. Liberty said they’re sometimes dropped in public where inmates could be working on other crews.

If drugs are taken into his jail by a visitor, Liberty said, they typically are concealed in a cheek or other body cavity, given that visitors there are patted down.

Murphy said Foote admitted trafficking drugs, but he thought he was doing Theriault-Patten a favor.

“He said that he thought he was helping the person by doing this,” Murphy said. “He knew what he was doing was wrong, but he thought he was helping him.”

That logic is flawed, Liberty said.

“Although the reverend may think he’s helping by helping (Theriault-Patten) ease off the opiates, he’ll have to come off those opiates anyway,” he said.

Getting involved

The Rev. Canon Nancy Platt, of Augusta, a retired addiction counselor who was the longtime priest at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Hallowell, said Foote was a skilled preacher who kept his congregations in good order.

She said Foote called her when he intended to strike up a friendship with Theriault-Patten. Platt has a son who has been in prison, she said, so Foote asked for her approval for the relationship.

“I didn’t give it to him,” she said. “I thought he was over-involved.”

She also said Foote was inexperienced in the issue of addiction, and Foote thought he could change Theriault-Patten outside of accepted, conventional methods of addiction counseling.

“He felt like he was a good kid with no chance,” Platt said.

The younger men accused with Foote have made frequent appearances on police blotters.

In 2010, Theriault-Patten was sentenced to eight years, with all but three years suspended, and three years’ probation on convictions of robbery and aggravated assault.

A 2010 story in the Kennebec Journal detailed multiple incidents involving Theriault-Patten.

That August, he was accused of trying to rob a man at knifepoint on Water Street in Augusta. That January, he was accused of stealing prescription drugs from a man in Augusta. In May that year, he was accused of theft. In March that year, another man was accused of aggravated assault in an incident in which he allegedly hit Theriault-Patten in the head with a baseball bat.

State records show that in 2011, Shawley was sentenced in Penobscot County Superior Court to four years in prison for unlawful trafficking of scheduled drugs. Bangor ABC affiliate WVII reported Shawley was arrested by Maine Drug Enforcement Agency agents after allegedly selling an agent cocaine at his Bangor apartment, just around the corner from an elementary school.

‘Everybody’s shocked’

The priest’s history has been different.

Lane, the Episcopal bishop, said Foote was dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Portland from 1990 to 2003.

Lane said Foote also served as archdeacon of the diocese — a senior member of the then-bishop’s staff — from 1986 to 1990. Earlier in his career, he served as rector of the Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Falmouth, Lane said.

Foote retired as dean of The Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Portland in 2003, according to the bishop’s office. The statement from the office said he had been serving as a transition priest-in-charge at St. Mark’s in Augusta.

Vicki Wiederkehr, canon for formation and transition ministry at the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, said Foote had been at St. Mark’s since January, and before then he had done a stint of transition work at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Waterville.

The statement said the Diocese of Maine would cooperate fully with the criminal investigation, and that Foote’s arrest automatically triggered the church’s Title IV proceedings, which are “the disciplinary process for clergy that is canonically required” by the church.

Wiederkehr said she announced Lane’s discipline to St. Mark’s parishioners at a service on Sunday, Nov. 4. She said the diocese is working on getting another priest to serve there.

Platt said Episcopalians are feeling the damage from the incident.

“He’s 70, and I don’t see how he can get out of this without some prison time,” she said. “Everybody’s shocked.”

 

Michael Shepherd — 621-5632
mshepherd@mainetoday.com