SKOWHEGAN, Maine (NEWS CENTER) – It's one of the largest cases of government theft in state history.
Today the woman responsible for it learned her fate. Five years in prison and more than a half million dollars in restitution. Investigators say Claudia Viles stole at least that much money from the Town of Anson in her role as Tax Collector.
It is a case that has divided a small town. Some still feel Viles is innocent. Others say they would like to believe that, but they are convinced she is a thief.
For 43 years Claudia Viles has served the Town of Anson as treasurer, secretary and tax collector. Just about everyone agrees she was pleasant, caring and a seemingly decent person.
“Expressions of true respect and admiration for someone who in town was really a pillar of the community”, said Viles’ attorney Walter McKee.
But underneath it all, investigators say she was stealing money from the town, the taxpayers, her neighbors.
“How terrible that people on fixed incomes, people with health crises, people with significant family issues, are stolen from and who knows better than the tax collector how difficult that it can be for people to pay their taxes”, Anson taxpayer Ellen McQuiston told the court.
Town officials say her actions caused taxes to go up, town projects to be put off and distrust in local government. Viles has not accepted responsibility. She remains defiant and adamantly maintains her innocence.
“I feel I have been caught up in a rush to judgement. The bus has been thrown on me”, Viles said.
The prosecutor says this may very well be the largest government theft case ever in the State of Maine.
“In my 33 years of prosecuting white-collar crime I have not prosecuted a town official for stealing this much money in the past”, said Assistant Attorney General Leann Robbin.
The judge allowed Viles to remain free on $50,000 bail pending the outcome of an appeal filed by her attorney.
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