From Maine Web Report:
The Boston Red Sox put out an annual yearbook, and they sell spots to advertisers. Earlier this year, the Maine Office of Tourism purchased a full-page ad in the yearbook.
As a way to entice advertisers, the Red Sox give tickets to their games in exchange for placing expensive ads like the one the MOT purchased. This is a common practice in the private sector, but highly suspect when it comes to state officials. The possibility of a state official or employee making purchasing decisions based on the prospect of personal gain is something the Maine Criminal Code expresses a specific problem with:
Title 17-A: MAINE CRIMINAL CODE
Part 2: SUBSTANTIVE OFFENSES
Chapter 25: BRIBERY AND CORRUPT PRACTICES
Â§605. Improper gifts to public servants
1. A person is guilty of improper gifts to public servants if:
A. Being a public servant that person solicits, accepts or agrees to accept any pecuniary benefit from a person if the public servant knows or reasonably should know that the purpose of the donor in making the gift is to influence the public servant in the performance of the public servant's official duties or vote, or is intended as a reward for action on the part of the public servant; or [1999, c. 149, Â§1 (amd).]
B. He knowingly gives, offers, or promises any pecuniary benefit prohibited by paragraph A. [1975, c. 499, Â§1 (new).]
[1999, c. 149, Â§1 (amd).]
2. Improper gifts to public servants is a Class E crime. [1975, c. 499, Â§1 (new).]
This is precisely what occurred at the Office of Tourism, and the Department of Economic and Community Development, when the MOT decided to place an extremely expensive full-page ad in the Red Sox Yearbook.
I stumbled across the following email exchange between MOT Marketing Director Karen Pendoley and MOT Director Dann Lewis, when reviewing emails attained through an FOAA request:
From: Pendoley, Karen
Sent: Wednesday, May 03, 2006 11:47 AM
To: Lewis, Dann
Subject: Red Sox
I have been meaning to ask you how I go about purchasing the Red Sox tickets. I would like to purchase the 4 I have for the May 25th game. Also, I would like to be able to leave early on that day and take the following day, Friday, off if possible.
Let me know if this is still an option or I will bring the tickets in for you to distribute.
Note the wording of this email: " I would like to purchase the 4 that I have". According to a source close to the MOT, Pendoley and other MOT staff received these tickets from their advertising company, Warren Kremer Paino, and intended to enjoy them as anyone ignorant of Maine Criminal Code might. The source claims that the MOT was alerted to the illegality of this exchange, and then quickly shuffled to try to make things right by having staff members pay the $80 face value of these tickets back to the MOT. This is clearly substantiated through the wording of Pendoley's email to Lewis. Here is Lewis's reply:
Karen- just give Donna a check for $320 made out to Maine Office of Tourism. Time off OK. Hope they win the game!!!
These were allegedly box seats to an array of Red Sox home games. According to the source, DECD Commissioner Jack Cashman himself "˜purchased' the tickets for the Yankees home game. If you've ever tried to purchase box seats to a Red Sox/ Yankees game, you know that the street price for these tickets is somewhere between $300 and $900 each.
I called Waneta Drew, Cashman's liaison to the press, and she refused to comment on the issue. She instead told me she would have Commissioner Cashman get back to me himself, which never occurred.
I contacted Karen Pendoley of the MOT and asked her about the tickets. She responded promptly with the following email:
From: Pendoley, Karen [mailto:Karen.Pendoley@maine.gov]
Sent: Friday, July 28, 2006 11:54 AM
To: Maine Coast Design
Subject: RE: Red Sox
The Office of Tourism placed a full page ad in the 2006 Official Yearbook for the Boston Red Sox. As part of that purchase the office received 48 tickets to Fenway, as well as 200 yearbooks. This apparently is a standard procedure for this publication as a way of saying thank you for the business.
The tickets and yearbooks were sent directly to me. It was brought to the attention of the department, through Commissioner Cashman, that these tickets could not be used by a state employee on a complimentary basis. Being somewhat new to state employment I was unaware of this guideline. I therefore opted to purchase 4 tickets for full value ($320.00) in order for my family to celebrate my daughter's 17th birthday. This offer was extended to anyone within DECD if they chose to do the same.
The other tickets were given on a gratis basis, through a raffle process, to members of the Tourism Commission and Industry affiliates who volunteer their time and services to the Office of Tourism. The yearbooks also have been given away during various meetings, again in thanks of those that volunteer their time.
I trust this answers your questions.
Maine Office of Tourism
111 Sewall St., 3rd Floor
59 State House Station
Augusta, Maine 04333-0059
PH: (207) 624-9810
FAX: (207) 287-8070
I followed up with Ms. Pendoley to get the list of exactly who received these tickets, but have not heard back from her yet.
Does Pendoley's explanation indicate that a purchasing decision was made with the understanding that personal gain would be received? The offer was on the table for MOT staff to receive tickets with a face-value of $3840, and an actual street value of over $10,000. The 200 Red Sox yearbooks are sold for $10 each, adding another $2000 to the personal payoff MOT staff would receive if they placed the ad.
Which they did.
The ad was placed and paid for, and MOT and DECD staff received the payoff. After getting caught, or, according to Pendoley , learning that what they did was wrong, they were directed to make amends by paying the MOT face-value for the tickets. Tickets that no one else who hadn't been part of such a deal could possibly purchase for $80 each. This was an effort to mitigate the direct personal gain MOT and DECD staff received, but it did nothing to address the decision-making process that was used to spend Maine taxpayers money on the ad in the first place.
It appears that a privileged few within the DECD and MOT received gifts from a vendor, and even though they ended up paying face-value for them, they are worth far more. And apparently, members of the Maine Tourism Commission were also brought into the deal. The whole Maine tourism infrastructure, patting each other on the back and rewarding each other with thousands of dollars worth of tickets, paid for by the Maine taxpayers, who bought the Red Sox advertising through WKPA.
This is another in a growing list of high-dollar decisions that have been made in concert with direct personal gain to MOT Director Dann Lewis, his staff, and even the private-sector advisory group that is supposed to keep an eye on these folks: old friends getting jobs, posh office space close to home, free accommodations in Manhattan, Red Sox box seats.
Our tourism industry has been hurting for years. The people who are supposed to be watching out for it are using their positions for personal gain, and even the MTC seems to be involved now. Remember Dann Lewis's "˜Time for the industry to be heard' email?
There is no oversight of the MOT at this point, and this is further amplified by the proposition that Baldacci's DECD Commissioner may have benefited from this little deal himself.