Former Anson Tax Collector Claudia Viles began serving a five-year prison sentence Monday after appeals to the state’s highest court failed in the landmark embezzlement case.

Viles was convicted in June 2016 of stealing more than $500,000 from the town over a period of years, a historic conviction that the prosecutor said puts the then-66-year-old “in a league of her own” among municipal theft cases in Maine.

To the end, her lawyer, Walter McKee of Augusta, said Monday, Viles steadfastly maintains her innocence.

“Claudia stands by her statement to this day that she never stole any money from the town, ever,” McKee said by phone Monday. “The law court decision was very disappointing.”

Superior Court Justice Robert Mullen in Skowhegan sentenced Viles to eight years in prison, of which she will serve five years and then three years of probation for the Class B felony theft charge, and nine months, to run concurrently, for 12 other charges related to tax fraud and tampering with public documents. She also was ordered to pay $566,257 in restitution to the town of Anson — $500,948 for the theft of excise taxes and $65,309 for economic loss to the town.

In her appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, Viles contended that there was insufficient evidence for the jury to find her guilty of theft and tampering with public records, according to the court ruling dated July 6.

“We disagree and affirm,” the justices wrote.

The appeal was argued May 10.

From at least 1998 until 2015, Viles was the sole town employee responsible for registering motor vehicles and collecting affiliated excise taxes, as well as preparing a treasurer’s receipt indicating the amount of taxes collected to deposit at the bank, the law court justices wrote.

On January 19, 2015, the new Anson town treasurer ran computer reports from 2014 in preparation for the annual town audit. The amount of collected taxes did not match the amounts Viles had provided in deposits. Viles did not produce registration reports and treasurer’s receipts “to reconcile the conflicting figures,” according to the Supreme Court ruling. The chairman of the Board of Selectmen and the town auditor were informed of the discrepancy.

An investigation by the town auditor revealed that for tax year 2014, there were shortfalls totaling $90,109.76 in Viles’ excise tax deposits, according to the court document. Shortfalls totaling more than $100,000 were also seen each year in 2013, 2012 and 2011.

Viles was indicted by a Somerset County grand jury on charges of theft, failure to pay Maine state income tax on six counts, failure to make and file Maine state income tax returns on five counts and tampering with public records.

The sentence and restitution were mostly what Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin, who prosecuted the case, had asked for, which she said is the largest Maine prosecution of a public official involving embezzlement of public money.

Viles was “sort of a free-range chicken” who was unsupervised as she stole about $100,000 a year from the Anson Town Office between 2009 and 2014, Robbin told the jury in Somerset County Superior Court at the opening of her trial in June 2016.

Robbin on Monday said the prison sentence was inevitable once the law court denied Viles’ appeal.

Now, Robbin said Monday, the plan is to try to get back as much money as possible to compensate the town. She said she has entered a motion to have the $58,500 seized during a search of the Viles home returned to the town of Anson as part of the restitution.

“At the restitution hearing we had a lot of information about sizable real estate owned by the Vileses,” she said. “So there certainly is some assets there to collect on.”

Before Viles was sentenced, residents and town officials spoke about the impact her theft has had on the town. They said the town has increased the tax rate to the point that some residents lost their homes, the town has been required to take out bonds to fund municipal projects, and the Viles case has created an atmosphere of distrust and cynicism toward town government.

Over the course of two days during her trial, the court heard from about a dozen witnesses — all called by the prosecution — including current and former town employees who testified about how Viles was able to steal more than $500,000 over five years.

“As the elected tax collector, Claudia Viles would have been the first person to notice if cash was missing from the excise tax accounts,” Robbin said in closing arguments. “She did, and she said nothing because she was the one pocketing the money.”

McKee said Monday that Viles will begin serving her sentence at the Somerset County Jail in East Madison, where she reported at 8:48 a.m. Monday. He said she probably will be transferred to serve most of her sentence at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham.

“I think it’s a challenge for anyone of her age to be serving a five-year prison sentence, but she was characteristically positive,” McKee said Monday.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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