AUGUSTA — The owner of the Red Barn unleashed her anger at Augusta city officials Friday in a two-minute Facebook video that has attracted thousands of views over a fine she said she received for not having a mass gathering permit for a fundraising event at the restaurant on July 6, 2016.

But although she spoke passionately in the video about how unfair it was that she was fined for a fundraiser for Honor Flight Maine, it turns out the event that violated city code was a different event. It was a show by the Veayo Twins Trio — with the Honor Flight event being held five days later on July 11, 2016.

Laura Benedict said Friday evening, hours after she posted her video, that she had not looked at the consent agreement that Matt Nazar, the city’s director of development services, dropped off with her at the restaurant on Friday.

“When he brought it to me, I didn’t even look at it,” she said. “That sucks. It still doesn’t make it right to wait a year after an internal investigation. I was so upset. I was so mad.”

At 7:30 p.m., Benedict posted a statement acknowledging her mistake.

“I was so outraged when I got the decree that I couldn’t speak. There is the very real issue that being fined for a violation after over a year is ridiculous. I was so protective of my Veterans that I lost my head. I am still outraged and wish it could be easier to conduct business and give so much to those that need us. I humbly apologize for the oversight and would still like things to change. Love, Laura.”

Even so, as of 8 p.m. Friday, the video had 238,000 views, 14,948 shares and 1,258 comments.

It had also prompted the office of U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, to weigh in with a statement.

“Every American, every Mainer, should do everything humanly possible to honor and thank those who fought for our freedom, especially those who fought in World War II,” Poliquin said.

“As a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I salute the owners of the Red Barn for their charity efforts on behalf of our Veterans. Every day we can all do our part to honor and help the men and women who have served our great Nation.”

Poliquin’s news release included a link to the video.

Calls to Poliquin’s office Friday evening were not immediately returned.

In her video, Benedict urged viewers to contact the members of the Augusta Council who she listed by name.

City officials, who have been deluged with emails and Facebook messages, said the video is misleading even before they realized the discrepancy between the date of the Honor Flight event and the event referenced in the city document.

They say they are concerned about the public’s reaction.

Augusta Mayor David Rollins said Friday afternoon that he and the other members of the Augusta City Council were blindsided by the uproar. While they support the work of Benedict and the Red Barn, Rollins said, “I have to support the city code office. We can’t look the other way on this one and not on that one.”

“There’s a lot more to the story than she portrayed, and it’s inflamed a lot of passion in people outside of Augusta,” City Manager Bill Bridgeo said.

City elected officials and employees have been deluged with emails and comments over the video, some of which Bridgeo termed hostile and strongly critical of Augusta city government.

“City staff feel like they are in a pickle,” he said. “We support what Laura’s doing, and buy the Monday night dinners for the causes she supports, and we feel a lot of pride in what she’s doing.”

But even as she does that, the Red Barn has neighbors who have complained — vociferously, in Rollins’ description — when city noise ordinances are being broken.

In the video, a visibly emotional Benedict said she was “being fined $200 for sending our heroes to Washington, D.C.” She said taxpayers’ money had been wasted.

“The Red Barn is being fined for orchestrating an NBC Evening News No. 1 million viewed video that put Augusta, Maine on the map, incidentally, and sent most of our beautiful heroes down to Washington for the last time,” she said.

The consent agreement notes two dates on which the Red Barn held outdoor concerts, July 6, 2016 and on June 11 of this year.

During the earlier event, Augusta police responded to noise complaints twice, and found noise exceeded the 60 decibel limits set out in city ordinance. Each time, the music was turned down.

Augusta ordinances include a provision for a mass gathering permit, which allows permit holders to exceed the city’s noise limit for events.

While the Red Barn has secured that permit in the past, no permit was issued for the June event.

The consent agreement notes that while Red Barn employees dropped off a permit application on a Friday for a Sunday event, neither the chief nor the deputy chief was available at the Augusta Police Department to issue the mass gathering permit. When neighbors complained about the noise, police found no mass gathering permit on file.

In his memo to city officials, Nazar noted that the $200 fine was twice the fee for a mass gathering permit, and because no sound measurements could be taken in June, no fine is proposed for that incident.

In an interview given shortly after posting the video but before the discrepancy in the dates came to light, Benedict said she’s just trying to do good things.

“It’s not the middle of the night,” she said.

In the video, Benedict said she would pay $2,000 to the city rather than $200, and held up a check.

“I made that reference to $2,000 because I am pissed,” she said. “I would pay 10 times what they are asking to shove it back in their face. That’s how I felt when I talked to Matt (Nazar).”

She said a number of people have offered to pay the fine on her behalf, but she said she has told them to donate it to Honor Flight.

“Listen, I can’t emphasize this enough. I want to play by the rules. I will pay the fine. I’m not asking for special treatment,” she said, “But come on.”

This is not the first time Benedict has run afoul of authorities. In 2013, the Office of the Attorney General sent a cease and desist letter to the restaurant, which had been raising money for charities via more than 100 benefits, because the restaurant had not complied with the state’s Charitable Solicitations Act by failing to register with the Office of Professional and Occupational Registration.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

This article was updated at 6:27 p.m., July 10, 2017, to remove a link to the video, which has been deleted from Facebook, and to remove a composite screenshot of two Facebook events — one of which was mentioned in the consent agreement, one was from a previous year.7

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