Maine selectman indicted on federal graft charges

In August 2010, we started noticing something suspicious at the Chelsea Town Office.

People were quitting in droves.

That left one selectman in charge of handing out and overseeing the town’s road work.

Which may be one reason why her husband’s firm got 92% of the municipal expenditure and a similar cut of nearly $400,000 in emergency federal disaster aid over the course of several years for which records were available.

Of course, not all the records we wanted were available, so we filed Freedom of Access requests and worked with the ousted officials to fill in the blanks. Meanwhile, new officials — friends and family of the selectman — were installed in public posts key to awarding road contracts, with outsized benefits and without having to apply.

At a time of massive destaffing and organizational malaise at newspapers nationwide, our two-year investigation found evidence of kickback schemes, environmental damage, racketeering and tax evasion that led to state charges and then a federal indictment. The Maine Press Association recognized our work with the 2011 investigative reporting award, a coveted honor usually given to larger news organizations with bigger staffs.

It’s the kind of community-focused investigative journalism that is disappearing from even the big metropolitan newspapers.

Of the 86 stories we wrote on contracting irregularities in Chelsea, here are the key ones, led by staff reporter Mechele Cooper. I’ll add as time allows.

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