In the latest of a string of troubles for the Maine Youth Center, Superintendent Laurence Reid resigned Friday after less than a year on the job to face criminal charges in Pennsylvania.
“It raises questions of who knew what, when, why — here we go again, what’s next?” said Rep. Edward Povich, D-Ellsworth, the House chairman of the criminal justice committee. “I don’t want it to derail the obvious needs of the youth center,” or the consideration of a $170 million proposal to overhaul the entire corrections system.
Reid, who has pleaded innocent, was accused of accepting a plane ticket and hotel stay in Florida in 1992 paid for by a doctor heading a medical group which was in the midst of a bid for a contract with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Reid was the executive deputy commissioner at the time, the No. 2 position in the department, and oversaw all medical contracts.
According to the criminal complaint and Sean Connolly, a spokesman for Pennsylvania’s attorney general, another employee said that Reid told him he would like to see Dr. Howard Monsour get the contract. Monsour is an old friend of Reid’s and the owner of Comprehensive Health Care Group, which had annual contracts with the department worth millions of dollars at the time.
Monsour was charged with submitting nearly $500,000 in fraudulent bills to the state.
According to the complaint, Reid did not report the gift to the state ethics commission as required by law.
Reid said, “I was going to go to Florida with another friend of mine who works for the doctor, and the doctor bought me an airline ticket. I said right away, `I can’t take this ticket,’ and he said, `Well, I’ll tell you what — since the ticket is nonrefundable, give me the cash for it.’ But unfortunately, I guess there’s the perception that I took a gift when in fact I didn’t.
“… It was really difficult for me to do the best job I could do with this thing hanging over my head, even though it’s not true,” he said, so he offered his resignation.
Reid, a man with the straight back and bearing of his Navy background and the booming voice of a preacher, spoke to the teen-agers at the center with respect, and was well liked by both staff and students.
The Department of Corrections has been supportive of Reid. Commissioner Martin Magnusson said in a statement, “I accepted the resignation with deep regret. Larry Reid has made significant progress in improving staff morale and programs for young offenders.”
Mary Ann Saar, the associate commissioner, said she was disappointed when he resigned because “I had liked his even-handed manner and calm way of starting to build a team between line staff and management,” and the ideas he had had about juvenile justice.
Reid was told he could have the job back if he is found innocent, but he said he would not take it since he believes his credibility would be lost.
Some legislators questioned whether the department was too supportive of him. One legislator who asked not to be named said, “There is a lot of funny stuff going on there that needs to be dug into. Everywhere you look there’s another question.”
Legislators mostly asked questions when asked for comment about the resignation. “You get a little gun-shy here,” Povich said. “You had problems with the confirmation of Randy Harriman and those disclosures. I ask quite frankly, is this something that should have been brought up? What was the recruiting process? He represented he didn’t know anything until December [when the charges were filed].”
Reid told Saar in December when he learned of the complaint, she said. She took time to get documents and find out the nature of the charges, she said, and to make sure he could not have known any earlier about the investigation. Connolly said the investigation began in July 1996 but he does not know whether Reid had any way of knowing of the investigation. Saar said she was satisfied that Reid was surprised by the charges in December.
Povich said, “I think `Are there any skeletons in your closet, is there anything that could come back to bite you years down the road?’ is a fair question” in a job interview.
Saar said that the search for a superintendent was an exhaustive one, with national advertising and interviews, after which a candidate was offered the job. That person turned down the job because of the rundown buildings and staffing problems at the overcrowded, underprogrammed youth center in South Portland. So they started another round, advertising again. That’s when Reid was contacted.
“The former commissioner, Joe Lehman, he used to be my boss in Pennsylvania,” Reid said. “So he asked me if I wanted to come, and of course, my first thing was to say, `Absolutely not, I don’t even know where Maine is!’ but … I am guided by prayer and it seemed like the right thing to do — like this is where I was being directed to come. ”
Saar said that she does not know why Reid applied for the job but that Lehman stayed out of the hiring process until the last stage, when she interviewed him about Reid. “He said he was a real gentleman with a lot of good values and a real feel for families,” Saar said, “and that’s what I was looking for.”
Lehman could not be reached for comment Friday.
Reid also had glowing reviews from the staff at a school such as the youth center in Pennsylvania where he was working after leaving the department at about the same time Lehman left for Maine. Saar went to the school without telling Reid and talked to people there, and saw how Reid had improved the maintenance of a troubled juvenile justice center. It was just what the youth center needed.
When asked if the department had investigated anything Reid had done while in Maine, Saar was astonished. “No — oh, no — we had no concerns,” she said, going on to praise his work. He did not oversee any contracts in his position here.
He will remain working at the youth center until mid-February at the request of the department, to help the transition. Lars Olsen, director of the Charleston Correctional Facility and a 20-year veteran of Maine corrections, will be acting superintendent after Reid leaves.
“The place is a wreck; it’s going to be a challenge for anyone to step in there and take it over,” said Rep. Elizabeth Townsend, D-Portland. “It’s certainly not going to help to have a lack of continuity there. … We just need to move forward and work on fixing the correction system, particularly the juvenile end, the Maine Youth Center most of all, and put this behind us.”
Reid hopes to put it behind him, too. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing in May. The felony count has a penalty of a fine up to $10,000 and five years in jail, and the misdemeanor count has a penalty of up to $1,000 fine and a year in jail.
“If it wasn’t for focusing on the Lord it would be a lot tougher for us,” he said of his family. “When you believe you were sent here by God one of the first things you ask is, `Did I do what I was sent there to do?’ It’s difficult to say.”