Maine woman indicted for forgery in racino petition drive 5-5-07

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - A Waldo County woman has been charged with forging signatures in a 2005 petition drive seeking a referendum on a racetrack casino in eastern Maine.

Amanda Arsenault, 24, of Northport was indicted by a Kennebec County grand jury Friday on a charge of aggravated forgery.

The investigation into the validity of the signatures began after a town clerk saw the name of a deceased person on one of the petitions, said Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin.

Clerks in other communities also found a number of invalid signatures, Robbin said. In other cases, some of the signatures on the petitions were misspelled, officials said.

“They notified the petition organizers who took it to the secretary of state's office, who turned it over to us for our investigation,” Robbin said.

The signatures in question were part of a signature-gathering drive two years ago to force a referendum on the Passamaquoddy Indian Tribe's efforts to develop a harness racing track with slot machines in Washington County.

Petitions with more than 60,500 signatures were submitted in January 2006 to state election officials, but nearly 13,000 of them were invalidated. The attorney general's office then began investigating alleged irregularities, such as forgery, on some of the petitions.

At the time, state election officials said petition circulators generally received $2 to $2.50 per voter signature in Maine initiative campaigns.

A subsequent petition drive successfully collected enough valid signatures to force a referendum. Mainers will vote in November in a statewide election on whether to allow the racetrack casino.

In Arsenault's case, the charge was in connection with petitions filed in a dozen municipalities in central and midcoast Maine.

The indictment was the first criminal charge stemming from the investigation, but Robbin could not say if other charges would be forthcoming.

“She was the only one we know of forging signatures,” Robbin said.

In one petition filed in Augusta, hundreds of signatures were invalid, said City Clerk Barbara Wardwell.

“The signatures did not match those on file and, in fact, some of the names were spelled incorrectly,” Wardwell said.