LITCHFIELD — The Litchfield Farmers’ Club is broke, but its officers say the Litchfield Fair gates still will open Sept. 7-9 for the annual agricultural exhibition.

However, the premiums or prizes might be smaller than in previous years.

The president and first vice president have said the club’s treasury is down to $1,000 or less, meaning more than $80,000 is missing.

Detective John Bourque, of the Kennebec Sheriff’s Office, said Wednesday there is an active investigation into the money’s disappearance, but he declined to offer specifics at this point.

However, a message posted Wednesday evening on the fair’s Facebook page assigns blame for the loss without mentioning the name of the person responsible for it.

“As many of you have heard, the Litchfield Farmer’s Club bank accounts have been drained by our treasurer,” the message says.

The Kennebec Journal is withholding publication of the treasurer’s name because he had not been charged by Wednesday evening and he has not responded to requests for comment.

Charlie Smith, president of the Litchfield Farmers’ Club, which operates the fair and fairgrounds, stood Wednesday inside the pulling ring at the fairgrounds along with First Vice President Richard Brown, saying they are seeking donations to help pay the bills. They said $20,000 would go a long way and have arranged for Camden National Bank to set up a bank account to receive any donations made at any branch location.

Officials who run the Topsham Fair have offered their assistance as well.

The Litchfield Farmers’ Club held an emergency meeting Tuesday night to decide how to deal with the crisis. Attorney Kevin Sullivan, a regular attendee at the Litchfield Fair, volunteered his services to assist them as well.

The men said Wednesday that the club’s treasurer, who has been in place since 2014, resigned, and the club officers voted to fire him Tuesday night.

“He was very apologetic,” Brown said.

Smith said the sheriff’s office had contacted him last week after Camden National Bank indicated some suspicious activity in the fair accounts.

Smith, who has been club president since 2008, said he went to the bank last week and was provided with statements for the past year.

“I viewed them that evening and confirmed that there were things out of the ordinary, and I notified the other officers,” he said. “We had treasurer’s reports every month, and they don’t coincide with the bank statements.”

While the investigation has just begun, Smith said, “we’re focusing on the fair and getting the fair off the ground.”

“It’s left the fair with an inability to open without financial assistance,” Sullivan said, although both club officers said it will open.

“We’ll do it; we’re a bunch of farmers,” Brown said.

“We just need help,” Smith said. “This fair is a family fair, it’s like old home weekend and has been for years, and it’s going to continue.”

“The bottom line is, it takes a lot of money to get this fair off the ground,” added Sullivan. “They lost the savings they had to rebuild buildings here and to add infrastructure here. It’s all gone; the money was wiped out. We really do need people to step up. We need businesses to step up.”

The men said the treasurer agreed to turn over the club’s financial records and agreed to cooperate with any investigation.

An interim treasurer has been appointed because the fair starts in a little more than two weeks.

Some of the club’s checks had been bouncing, and the money earmarked to build a replacement ticket booth is missing.

“This was apparently a hide-the-ball thing for quite some time,” Sullivan said.

He said a debit card had been obtained for the account and there were records of transactions at Oxford Casino, private car payments made and direct withdrawals.

“It is clear to us he has a gambling problem,” Sullivan said. “We know what’s going on. We know what happened. We know where the money went. We know why it went there. We know who took it. The information as we have it is being provided to the Kennebec (County) Sheriff’s Office to deal with as a criminal prosecution.”

He declined to say more about that while the investigation is underway.

“It’s left the Litchfield Farmers’ Club in a very sticky situation to get this fair open in two weeks, and they need the help,” Sullivan added.

Brown said the loss is terrible.

“We can’t believe it,” he said. “I really haven’t been able to sleep since Charlie told us.”

The men said they determined money had been disappearing during the past couple of years.

Brown said the club awards a $500 agricultural and life science scholarship each year from the interest on a $10,000 designated account.

“It’s down to 61 cents,” he said.

Smith said money will help ensure the fair’s viability.

“We have contracts; we have vendors that we’re obligated to,” Smith said. “It takes a great deal to get this fair off the ground.”

Sullivan said the Litchfield Farmers’ Club has an insurance policy and club officials are looking into the specifics of the coverage.

“Basically, when you put your faith in someone, you expect them to be careful; in this case, that wasn’t the case,” said Brown, who has been on the board since 1980.

Smith said nothing like this has happened previously to the club.

“Our treasurers usually last 20 years,” he said.

The fair brochure says about 17,000 people attend the Litchfield Fair each year.

Fair exhibits can be submitted by residents of Litchfield, Bath, Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Dresden, Farmingdale, Gardiner, Greene, Leeds, Lewiston, Lisbon, Manchester, Monmouth, Pittston, West Gardiner, Randolph, Richmond, Sabattus, Topsham, Wales, Wayne, Winthrop and Woolwich.

On Wednesday, the fairgrounds were populated with recreational vehicles filled with people attending the Aug. 22-26 Blistered Fingers Family Bluegrass Festival.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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