if the charges in a lawsuit against former Maine Turnpike Authority Executive Director Paul Violette hold up in court, he will enter some sort of state Hall of Fame for the Creative and Flagrant Misuse of Public Funds.

It’s one thing to divert a few hundred or a few thousand dollars that someone has entrusted you with to your own purposes. Such people run afoul of the law all the time.

But they are pikers compared with what Violette is being sued for: The Maine Turnpike Authority is seeking to recover a whopping $450,000 of MTA funds that he is said to have personally received or wrongly spent on credit cards, gift cards for himself and others, and false claims of unused vacation and sick time.

Since the average income in the state is about $38,500, that means in his 23 years as turnpike authority chief, Violette is alleged to have misspent almost 12 times the income of an average worker in the state — in addition to receiving his own salary of about $130,000 a year.

That’s a lot of toll money that could have been spent to benefit turnpike users, or been given to the state to improve highways elsewhere.

The suit seeks to attach any property Violette now owns up to the $450,000 amount it says he owes the MTA.

That actually isn’t the full amount that’s unaccounted for at his hands, the suit says. One affidavit alleges that the total sum the MTA is missing is actually $524,392 — but it says Violette may be able to provide documentation that some currently unsupported spending might actually have been used for legitimate expenses.

So it is knocking almost $75,000 off the total in anticipation that he can prove he spent up to that amount for legitimate reasons.

The public also should not overlook that Violette did all this without any real oversight from his board of directors, who were appointed to their posts specifically to provide oversight for such things. They, too, have served the people of Maine badly.

The civil suit isn’t Violette’s only problem — the Maine Attorney General’s Office is also conducting a criminal investigation against him, and his lawyer says he will seek to have the MTA’s claim postponed until that probe is resolved.

That decision is up to the courts, of course, but even if the wheels of justice grind slowly, they can — and should — grind extremely fine.

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