Mainers gave money to LePage to prevent domestic violence. He spent it elsewhere.
When Amy Bagley Lake and her two children were killed by her estranged husband when he was out on bail in 2011 in Dexter, friends, family, co-workers and people across Maine dedicated themselves to trying to prevent such a tragedy from happening to others. By organizing and participating in an annual 5K race, they raised tens of thousands of dollars intended for the purchase of devices that could alert victims and police when alleged domestic violence offenders illegally showed up at the victims’ homes, schools or workplaces.
Former Gov. Paul LePage was on board, too. In July 2012 he accepted an $18,000 check — which came from the private proceeds of the Dexter 5K held in memory of Lake, 38, and her two children, Coty, 13, and Monica, 12 — to fund the expansion of electronic monitoring systems in Maine. He even matched the money with $18,000 from a state contingency fund, setting aside a total of $36,000 to implement the kind of technology that might have saved Lake’s life by alerting her and the authorities of Steven Lake’s proximity when he entered her home before sunrise.
“I would especially like to thank all those who participated in this year’s Amy, Coty, Monica Memorial 5k Fundraiser,” LePage said in a news release at the time. “Your efforts will help us stop future tragedies like the one experienced by Amy Lake and her two children, Monica and Coty.”
But most of the money never went to electronic monitoring programs. Instead, the LePage administration ended up spending $26,000 of the total on day-to-day jail operations, according to Ryan Thornell, the former executive director of the state Board of Corrections. The board oversaw initial electronic monitoring efforts and disbursed the remaining $10,000 to start pilot programs in three counties, but it dissolved in 2015 when LePage didn’t nominate members to serve on it.
Kelly Gay, a friend and co-worker of Amy Lake’s, was a main organizer of the 5K. Upon learning that the money she helped raise for domestic violence prevention had been spent elsewhere, she said the LePage administration had let down an entire community and a family that had already endured devastating loss.
So many people and organizations wanted to be part of the solution to ending domestic violence, Gay said, “that they went out of their way to contact me to donate money, sponsor the race, participate in the race, or volunteer for the cause.”
Raising money “to help other women and children living in the same fear that Amy had been living in for years before she died brought a huge level of healing to a community that was deeply wounded and permanently scarred by their deaths. To hear that now the funds that we raised were basically given away to some other account, without so much as a word to us about it, makes me feel deeply saddened and sick inside,” she said.
Gay handed LePage a check for $18,000 at a news conference in 2012, she said, and knew it had been cashed. But it wasn’t until a reporter looked into where the money went that Gay learned it was no longer available for electronic monitoring.
The state Board of Corrections distributed $4,000 of the race funds to Kennebec County, $4,000 to Sagadahoc County and $2,000 to Somerset County in fiscal year 2015 for electronic monitoring pilot programs, according to Thornell, who is now deputy commissioner at the Maine Department of Corrections.
The remaining $26,000 sat in the board’s “other special revenue account” until the board was eliminated. Then, through a financial order, the funds moved to the new County Jail Operations Fund, Thornell said in an email. The state is required to appropriate at least $12.2 million for the fund annually, according to state law.
While jails use some of the money from the operations fund on community corrections programs, there’s no guarantee it went to electronic monitoring.
“We have no way of knowing what the remaining funds were spent on, specifically, once distributed to the county jails,” Thornell said.
Indeed, there appear to be only a handful of electronic monitoring programs in Maine, which are small and all operate slightly differently. According to the Maine Commission on Domestic and Sexual Abuse, seven out of 16 counties used electronic monitoring in a total of 59 domestic violence cases in 2016, which appears to be the last available statewide tally.
An extra $26,000 could have allowed for the purchase of at least 130 more ankle bracelets, though that rough estimate does not take into consideration the costs of personnel time to manage an electronic monitoring program or respond to violations.
Gay stopped holding the race after seven years, ending the year Monica Lake would have graduated high school. At the beginning, Gay had intended to give the race money to the state every year but, after the first time, didn’t feel right handing over more to potentially “just sit there,” she said.
In subsequent years she donated the money to Somerset, Kennebec and Waldo counties, which all started and still run electronic monitoring programs. Funds also went to what is now Partners for Peace and the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office to help victims of domestic violence.
“I am not normally one to get all political as I hate the state of politics and how hateful everyone seems to have become,” Gay said. But in this case, “I am so deeply disgusted with Governor LePage.”
LePage did not reply to an emailed request for comment June 3.
The state technically did not need the $26,000 from the race. It finished out the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2018, with a surplus of more than $175 million.
“Why weren’t the lives of the women and children in the state of Maine worth the funds that it would have cost to run a proximity monitoring program? Why was the money left just sitting there and then given away?” Gay asked. “Is a high balance in the state’s bank account that makes you look like a great governor more important than saving lives?”
Lake’s father, Ralph Bagley of Harmony, said he had hoped to see electronic monitoring spread statewide, especially since it has worked well in the counties that have implemented it and has been relatively inexpensive. “Why can’t it work for the rest, if somebody got the backbone and put the effort into it?” he asked.
Research shows that electronic monitoring in other states tends to be effective at reducing offending, though success varies among programs. A push for wider implementation in Maine failed over the last few years amid disorganization and a lack of leadership, despite the political capital invested in the issue, according to officials who work with the criminal justice system.
“If it can save a life, just one, it’s worth that battle” of trying to expand the use of the devices, Bagley said, but he’s done with the effort for now. “It looks to me like just money goes in the wind.”
Maine Focus is a journalism and community engagement initiative at the Bangor Daily News. Questions? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.