SKOWHEGAN — The amount of money collected by former Anson Tax Collector Claudia Viles and the amount deposited in town accounts differed by more than $500,000 over five years, according to the testimony of an auditor for the town in Somerset County Superior Court on Tuesday.
Viles, 66, the former Anson tax collector who resigned in September, is charged with 13 counts, including a class B felony, in connection with allegations she stole excise tax money collected by the town.
Both the state and defense rested their cases Tuesday afternoon following two days of testimony. Closing arguments are scheduled for Wednesday morning, after which the jury will go into deliberations.
On Tuesday, Richard Emerson, an auditor for Purdy Powers and Co., of Portland, testified that he had warned Anson town officials about problems that could arise from the way the town handled excise tax money, but those warnings went unheeded until a new computer system revealed discrepancies.
Emerson said Tuesday that he calculated a difference of $500,948 between what Viles collected and what she handed over to the town between 2010 and the fall of 2014. The town has charged in a lawsuit that $438,712 disappeared from 2011 to September 2014.
An indictment handed down in the case accuses Viles of theft dating back to Jan. 1, 2009, but Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin said Tuesday that police did not review records for 2009 because the town never requested an audit of that year. The cost of an audit for one year of tax records is about $8,000, and Robbin said in an interview Tuesday that “at some point they decided they didn’t want to throw good money after bad.”
Emerson, who has audited town records for Anson since about 1990, testified Tuesday that excise tax collections by the town were consistent over the years, with the exception of 2014, when officials noticed about a $50,000 increase in excise taxes collected. Prior to that, he said, a normal increase each year would be about $10,000 to $15,000.
“Based upon that testimony, one could conclude she has been doing this for quite a long time,” Robbin said of the allegation that Viles had stolen excise tax money.
Viles’ attorney, Walter McKee, said Monday in opening statements that anyone could have taken the money — including inmates from the Somerset County Jail, who helped move the Town Office in 2014 — but the investigation unfairly focused solely on Viles.
McKee is not calling any witnesses in the trial and Viles said Tuesday she does not plan to testify.
DOESN’T ADD UP
Anson officials contacted Emerson in early 2015, concerned about the unusual increase in the amount of motor vehicle excise tax collected, he said. He had done audits for the town in the past, and he had warned the town about lack of oversight over excise tax collection and the danger of not making timely bank deposits of the money, but the town didn’t follow his recommendations.
Emerson testified that after the town asked for his help in early 2015, he met with Viles and reviewed the registrations and reports she had generated for 2014. He found that copies of treasurer’s receipts, deposit slips and total numbers on adding machine tapes were all consistent. The numbers listed on each registration also matched the numbers on the tape.
But when Emerson added up the numbers on the tape, he found they did not equal the total.
“It was very perplexing,” he said.
To figure out how much money should have been deposited, Emerson collected copies of motor vehicle registrations that Viles had filled out for each year and added up the cost of each one. Excise tax records from 2010 and part of 2013 were missing, complicating the process.
At a meeting in early 2015, he confronted Viles about some of the discrepancies and she told him that she had a different set of adding machine tapes that might help them figure out the problem. The second set of tapes was better organized and matched the figures on the treasurer’s receipts and deposit slips, but still differed from the first set Viles had presented.
“Her only explanation was she knew what the tape had to be and she figured it would work itself out,” Emerson said.
McKee, her attorney, has not made any statements during the trial to explain the alleged mistakes in record keeping, but he asked Emerson on Tuesday whether Viles made an effort to address the concerns he had.
“Yes,” he said. “She said it was her responsibility to make it right.”
Other witnesses Tuesday portrayed Viles as someone who didn’t make tax payments in the past but in recent months had made efforts to catch up and who had an unusual way of handling personal finances, including storing $58,500 in cash at her home.
Robin Melancon-Quimby, a branch manager at Camden National Bank in Madison, testified that twice the IRS had levied Viles’ account, or seized money, in response to a failure to pay taxes. Viles also routinely deposited checks for large sums of money and then withdrew the cash, Melancon-Quimby testified. Most of the checks, however, were paychecks made out to Viles from the town of Anson, Melancon-Quimby said.
Russell Veysey, a criminal investigator for Maine Revenue Services, also offered testimony as the person whom the attorney general’s office contacted to review Viles’ tax records and personal bank records. Viles and her husband, Glenn Viles, had failed to make income tax payments to the state and federal governments for several years, Veysey said. When Veysey was contacted by the attorney general’s office in 2015, the Vileses had not filed tax returns since 2003, he said. Several years of tax returns have since been filed, but the state also has had to do assessments of money owed based on limited information in order to collect money for others, Veysey said.
Robbin said that to date there are no charges against Glenn Viles, but she would not comment on whether he will be charged or whether the attorney general’s office is investigating him.
A review of Claudia Viles’ personal bank statements from Camden National Bank also showed unusual spending patterns, including the fact that she typically would deposit a large check from the town in January and sometimes at other periods of the year, and then withdraw most of the money in cash, Veysey said. He called her habits “odd,” though noted that it is legal to withdraw several thousand dollars in cash at once.
There was no indication of Viles paying for everyday expenses such as grocery bills with the account. McKee said Monday in opening statements that the state has failed to show where the money missing from the Town Office went, as Viles’ account did not contain the money and often when she withdrew large sums of cash it was from her paychecks from the town.
“You don’t see Claudia driving an Escalade or taking off on vacations to Hawaii,” McKee said. “You see her depositing her checks from the town, but they haven’t found that $450,000.”
When state police arrived at Viles’ home in March 2015 with a search warrant for her property, she greeted them at the door and pointed them in the direction of $58,500 in cash in her garage, explaining that it was money she had received from the town as annual payments, according to testimony from Chris Crawford, a Maine State Police detective.
“She had put a lot of thought into (the allegations),” said Crawford, an Anson resident who said he has known Viles since he was a child. “She went to sleep with it. Woke up with it. She said she didn’t steal anything.”
The money was confiscated, but according to McKee the $58,500 was the result of Viles withdrawing most of her large paychecks over several years.
A few months after the state police search, Viles and her husband met with Michael Fitton, an accountant for PFBF CPAs in Oakland, with about nine years of taxes they had not filed. He helped them prepare the taxes, most of which were filed late in the fall of 2015.
The IRS was sending them notices “and I assume they wanted to clean up their tax issues,” Fitton said.
On the first day of the trial, Monday, witnesses included a parade of current and former town employees and officials who testified that Viles had no oversight, no one kept track of the excise tax money she collected, she resisted learning to use a computer, attempts to make collections and deposits more efficient were ineffective, and once discrepancies were pointed out, related paperwork began to disappear from the Town Office.
In September 2014, the town started using a computer system for its excise taxes, which included making daily deposits, former Administrative Assistant Triss Smith testified Monday.
Smith said that at the end of 2014, she ran a report on the computer system that the town had started using that September, indicating that the town had collected $354,355 in excise taxes for the year, but Viles had presented her with a number that was about $78,000 less.
“I didn’t know what to think or where to go from there,” said Smith, who said she reported the discrepancy to Arnold Luce, chairman of the selectmen, who organized the meeting with Emerson.
At that meeting in February 2015, Viles told Luce and Emerson that she was responsible for the shortfall and would pay it back, Luce testified Monday.
“I don’t think she realized then how much we were talking about,” Luce said.
He said he later visited Viles at her home, and she was shaken up and told him there was “no way” that the town was missing as much as $78,000 in 2014.
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368