The town of Anson has filed a civil lawsuit against Tax Collector Claudia Viles, alleging that she purposely misappropriated more than $430,000 in excise tax money.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Somerset County Superior Court, follows a monthslong investigation into the missing tax money and the seizure of $58,500 in cash from Viles’ home by Maine State Police.

Selectmen Arnold Luce said the Maine Municipal Association has filed the suit to recover insurance money it paid out to the town, not the town. The suit names the town as the plaintiff and copies MMA officials, including claim numbers.

The suit accuses Viles, who is still working at the Town Office, of fraud and says she omitted amounts she collected in excise tax from the town’s accounting system, knowingly recording inaccurate amounts she collected in excise tax and reprinting calculator tapes with altered figures to make it appear that the amount of money collected matched what was being deposited.

Aside from Luce’s comments, town officials would not comment on the lawsuit Wednesday and have yet to make public accusations against Viles, who was at work Wednesday.

Luce, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said the MMA, the town’s insurance carrier, which recently paid the town $250,000 to cover some of the lost money, has filed the suit as a means to recover the money. “Once they’ve paid the check, they’re going to go after their money,” he said.

“The town is the one that had the loss, so (the MMA) is just using the town’s name,” Luce said. MMA spokesman Eric Conrad didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment Wednesday.

Luce wouldn’t comment when asked whether he believed Viles misappropriated money.

Viles has been tax collector, an elective position, for 42 years. She didn’t return a message asking for comment on the suit. Her attorney, Walter McKee, also didn’t return a call for comment on Wednesday.

Even with the lawuit, because Viles is an elected official, the town cannot limit Viles’ duties or responsibilities, Luce said.

The Office of the Maine Attorney General also is investigating the case. Spokesman Tim Feeley said Wednesday that he couldn’t comment.

The suit says the town will continue the investigation.

“At this lime, the Town is uncertain as to whether additional yearly audits will reveal similar shortfalls for the calendar years preceding and including 2010, and upon information and belief, the investigation is ongoing,” it says.

As required by law, the town has conducted yearly audits of tax records, but the discrepancies, which now have reached $478,712 missing over the last four years, were never revealed because the numbers on receipts were wrong, Luce said in an interview last week.

He said the town is not questioning the work of accountants Purdy Powers.

“The information they were given was apparently false. I’m not sure how hard we should be criticizing (the auditors),” he said. “I’m sure from this point on they’ll be digging deeper into towns, but I think in this case they were given some information that wasn’t correct to work with.”

He said town officials on their own have not considered a lawsuit against Viles and that they believe money is no longer disappearing from the Town Office since town officials began using a new computer system last fall.

“We’ve gotten back the money the insurance is going to pay, so we really have nothing to say about what (the MMA) does,” he said.

As tax collector, Viles’ responsibilities include collecting taxes, preparing financial reports, maintaining tax records and ledgers and doing other clerical work and bookkeeping for the town, according to the lawsuit. Excise tax is a tax collected annually from residents when they register motor vehicles.

A shortfall between the amount of money being collected in excise tax and the amount deposited in the town’s bank account was first noticed by former administrative assistant Triss Smith, who calculated a $78,645 discrepancy shortly after the town implemented the new computer system in 2014.

The new system automatically directs financial transactions, including excise tax transactions, into the appropriate accounts. Around the same time, the town also changed its policy regarding the deposit of town money from an irregular schedule to a policy that required employees to perform daily deposits of money collected at the Town Office.

Under the old system, money was deposited at times as infrequently as on a quarterly basis.

The $78,645 figure was revealed to residents at the Town Meeting in March. Town officials at the time said that there was no evidence of wrongdoing, but they asked accountants Purdy Powers & Co. to review tax records dating back to 2011.

By July, the company had calculated a total of $438,712 in missing excise tax over the last four years.

A portion of that money was recovered through a crime coverage policy that the town has with the Maine Municipal Association. In order to reclaim the money, the town had to prove loss — which they did through letters from Purdy Powers — and initiate a criminal investigation.

Vice Chairman of the Board of Selectmen John Bryant and administrative assistant Tammy Murray also wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit or the fact that Viles is still working at the Town Office.

“There is a legal matter pending, and I cannot make any comments on that,” Murray said. “I believe no town board member is going to make any comment at this point. There are legal cases pending.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm


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