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Sanford city councilor to plead guilty to election fraud

SANFORD, Maine — In an arrangement that avoids jail time, City Councilor Victor DiGregorio has agreed to plead guilty to six counts of making false statements to the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices in his failed bid for a seat in the state Legislature last year, his attorney said Tuesday.

“It is his intention” to plead guilty to the six charges of unsworn falsification, said DiGregorio’s attorney, Tyler J. Smith. Under terms of the agreement, a charge of theft by deception would be dismissed.

If the plea arrangement is accepted by a judge during a scheduled court appearance Monday, DiGregorio will serve seven days in an alternative sentencing program, performing public service.

A conviction on the unsworn falsification charges — a Class D misdemeanor — would trigger a clause in the city charter that would mean the end of DiGregorio’s council term, which expires Dec. 31.

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Sanford’s municipal charter contains a provision that states a person is no longer qualified to be councilor if convicted of a crime that carries a jail term greater than six months. Maine’s criminal code provides that an individual convicted of a Class D crime be sentenced to a definite period of less than one year.

Even though DiGregorio’s plea would carry a seven-day alternative sentence, the fact that he would be convicted of a Class D misdemeanor — which carries a sentence of less than one year — would trigger the clause in the charter.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, DiGregorio said he will not resign, but if the judge accepts his plea on Monday and he is convicted, he will turn in his keys at City Hall.

“Against the recommendation of others that I should resign, I couldn’t do that. If I did that, I would be letting the people down,” DiGregorio said at the meeting, where he outlined his version of what transpired during his campaign for the Legislature.

Mayor Tom Cote told DiGregorio that he hadn’t asked for his resignation.

“I asked if you were going to,” said Cote. “I didn’t ask you to, but I think you should.”

Earlier Tuesday, Cote said he believed DiGregorio should step down.

“When and if he pleads to this, if this plea is supported by the terminology in the charter which mandates he is no longer qualified to serve on the council, we will take necessary action to remove him,” said Cote. “The right thing for him to do is resign proactively.”

Smith would not comment on the legal situation with respect to the City Council.

After the meeting, DiGregorio reaffirmed to the Journal Tribune that he intends to accept the plea worked out between his attorney and the prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin, who did not return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment.

DiGregorio is scheduled to enter his guilty pleas in an appearance set for 8:30 a.m. Monday at York County Superior Court in Alfred.

The charges, which were filed Feb. 8, accuse DiGregorio of lying about the origin of qualifying contributions to his Legislative campaign and attempting to steal Maine Clean Election Act funds when he signed forms stating he had collected 60 required $5 contributions in his independent bid for House District 19. The seat had become vacant upon the death of Rep. Bill Noon in July 2015.

DiGregorio trailed the pack in a three-way race for the seat, which was won by Republican Matthew Harrington.

According to a report issued by the staff of the ethics commission that denied DiGregorio the Clean Election funds, the commission staff attempted to contact a sampling of people listed on DiGregorio’s forms to verify they had made $5 contributions.

The commission staff received responses from 11 people. Ten of the 11 said they had not made a contribution, and five said DiGregorio asked them to sign money orders even though they hadn’t contributed money.

During a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon, DiGregorio said he never intended to illegally obtain Clean Election funds.

“There was no intention of my trying to deceive the state,” said DiGregorio.

He said his mistake was in collecting donations and signatures from people who, as it turns out, did not live in District 19. When he turned those contributions in to the ethics commission, he was informed they were not eligible, so he tracked down as many as he could to return the money, he said, but some told him to keep it.

When he sought signatures from others, DiGregorio said, they told him to come back on payday, but he instead used the $5 contributions that the original donors wouldn’t accept as the new registrants’ contributions.

“It was the wrong thing to do,” DiGregorio told the City Council Tuesday night. “I’m confident I didn’t do anything deliberately wrong to take advantage of anybody.”

In August, DiGregorio rejected a plea offered by the state that would have included an unspecified amount of jail time.

DiGregorio is seeking re-election to his council seat and said Tuesday he will mount a vigorous campaign.


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