AUGUSTA — The attorney for Claudia G. Viles, the former longtime treasurer for the town of Anson, asked the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Wednesday to overturn her embezzlement and evidence tampering convictions.

Walter McKee told the justices at the Capital Judicial Center that there was not enough evidence presented by the state to support the conviction for theft by deception or tampering.

“This was a circumstantial case,” he said, adding, “There was not sufficient proof of actual possession except for conjecture.”

Viles, now 67, of North Anson, was convicted June 22, 2016, in Skowhegan of theft and tampering with public records or information as well as 11 counts of failure to make or file tax returns. She is not appealing the convictions on the tax charges.

Viles maintained others could have taken the money from the Town Office because they had access. The central issue in the case and the appeal is what happened to the $566,257 that Viles is accused of stealing over a number of years.

Associate Justice Ellen Gorman noted the town saw “systematic shortfalls between 2010 and 2013,” and asked if McKee had a problem with the “chain of custody of the money.”

McKee, who defended Viles at the trial as well, responded, “We’re dealing with a gap of evidence within the circumstantial evidence that the state presented.”

Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin, who also prosecuted the case at trial, told the six-justice panel, “The paper trail pointed to one person.” She said Viles’ initials were on “every single form,” including deposit slips. “She was the only person who had custody pending the deposits, and she would have know if there were shortfalls.”

Associate Justice Joseph Jabar asked Robbin what happened to the $500,000 plus that was taken.

“She made that hard,” Robbin said, adding that Viles deposited her checks into the bank twice a year and withdrew cash.

McKee said the $58,500 in $100 and $50 bills found in a safe in Viles’ garage was the result of Viles bring in a check each year for $20,000 and taking cash.

However, Robbin said information presented at Viles’ sentencing shows she owns her home in North Anson, another rental property there as well as a seasonal residence in Embden.

After the hearing, McKee addressed that in an email, saying, “What the state still cannot explain here is that if Claudia Viles stole more than half a million dollars, why is it that after all these years and investigation they never found a single trace of it? Claudia’s answer to this question is clear: because she never took it in the first place.”

Viles remains free on bail pending resolution of this appeal. She was sentenced Sept. 2, 2016, to serve an initial five years in prison, and the remaining three years was suspended while she is on three years of probation. She also was ordered to pay $566,257 in restitution to the town of Anson.

Viles did not attend the oral argument session Wednesday. McKee said she was helping a family member.

Gloria Chartier of Anson, who said she was a friend of Viles, watched the oral arguments with a friend from out of town.

“I have a hard time believing all this happened,” Chartier said. “It’s partly the fault of the town for having this system in the first place. They should have been more organized to begin with.”

Anson Administrator Tammy Murray was in the courtroom as well.

Afterward, Murray said she was sent to represent the town.

She said the town has filed a civil lawsuit against Viles to get restitution, and that could not move forward until the appeal was resolved. The town has since made significant changes in how it handles tax payments received at the Town Office, she said.

“Everything’s balanced right down to the penny,” Murray said.

In the two years since Viles’ departure, the amount of excise tax the town has collected has proved substantially higher than in previous years.

For instance, Murray said the 2016 excise tax paid totaled $418,000 and the 2015 excise tax totaled $411,000. In 2014, the final year Viles held what was then an elective post, it was about $267,000.

“It was an elected official, and you don’t have a lot of control over elected officials,” she said.

The town treasurer now is appointed by the five-person Board of Selectmen and is paid a salary.

Testimony at the trial showed that Viles’ pay was based on a percentage of the excise tax and a percentage of the real estate commitment.

Viles resigned from the post she had held for 42 years in September 2015, the same month she pleaded not guilty to the charges. She was indicted on charges of stealing more than more than $10,000 from the town of Anson that from January 2009 to September 2014, and failing to file or pay state income taxes each of those years and failed to file income tax returns from 2009 through 2013.

The indictment also stated that on March 2, 2015, Viles tampered with public records by intentionally destroying, concealing or removing copies of state motor vehicle registration forms belonging to the town.

Murray, who is also an Anson resident, said there are different opinions about the case.

“It’s just a small community and there’s a lot of responsibility for people in those positions,” she said.

Associate Justice Donald Alexander explained he was presiding at the hearing in the absence of Chief Justice Leigh Saufley, who was dealing with a pressing matter at the State House. Saufley was attending a meeting with Gov. Paul LePage and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who was in Maine to discuss the opioid crisis.

Alexander said Saufley would participate in the Viles decision.

Opinions are issued in writing after the justices consider the oral arguments and the briefs submitted by attorneys in the case.

McKee said testimony at trial showed “that the monies at issue were unsecured for wide swaths of time” and that keys to the Town Office were easily duplicated.

McKee also notes that Triss Smith, the town’s administrative assistant and treasurer as well as clerk and general assistance administrator, testified that Viles removed motor vehicle records from the Town Office, but maintains that was insufficient to convict Viles of tampering with them.

McKee said the state proved that Viles took in excise taxes in one amount and later there was a bank deposit of a different amount. “The state’s evidence of what happened between those two times was either severely compromised or just plain missing,” he wrote.

Robbin, in her brief, said a forensic audit showed Viles “diverted over $500,000 in excise taxes to her own use from Jan. 1, 2010, through Sept. 18, 2014, in addition to failing to file her own personal state tax returns or pay taxes June 2003-2015.

“Viles was able to steal for years from the Town of Anson, because, as an elected official, she had virtually no supervision,” Robbin wrote.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams


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