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AG seeks payment from former state employee for unpaid travel debt

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AG seeks payment from former state employee for unpaid travel debt

AUGUSTA — The state is tired of waiting for a former official to voluntarily pay the more than $4,300 he owes for bills on a state credit card.

The attorney general’s office is taking Jimmy Cook, who got his state job with the help of Gov. John Baldacci, to small claims court.

William Laubenstein, chief of the AG’s government division, said, “Obviously, we’d like to recover the outstanding debt in full.” But if the state wins the case and Cook still does not pay the debt, he said the state could go after Cook’s assets.

The case was referred to the AG’ s office by state Controller Terry Brann after letters written to Cook failed to get him to pay the debt.

“My recollection,” Brann said, “is that this is the first time we have contacted the AG regarding an outstanding travel card liability.”

Cook, a Bangor native, left the state Department of Economic and Community Development in the fall of 2008, where he worked part of the time in the tourism division. He spent $4,900 on authorized travel to places such as New York City, Long Beach, Calif., and Washington, D.C. The state reimbursed Cook for that amount and Cook was supposed to use that money to pay off the charges on his state-issued credit card, which he failed to do.

He also owed $802 on a cash travel advance from the state.

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting reported the problem in April and Cook a few days later repaid the $802. But there have been no further payments since then, according to Brann.

Cook was also the subject of a March story by the center that documented how he landed two well-paying jobs under then-DECD Commissioner John Richardson, despite not meeting the formal qualifications for the job.

Richardson said Cook was recommended for a job by the governor’s office, which confirmed to the center that Baldacci supported the hiring.

Cook also worked for Baldacci’s first inauguration committee and later got his first state job in the governor’s office that coordinated redevelopment of the Brunswick Naval Air Station.

Cook’s primary work experience until then was as a UPS truck driver and political organizer for the Teamsters Union.

David Farmer, spokesman for Baldacci, said, “It’s our understanding that the matter has been referred to the Office of the Attorney General for a small claims action and that it is being handled in a way similar to other collection matters.”

Cook did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment and he has no listed telephone number.

John Christie is the senior reporter for the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, a nonpartisan, non-profit journalism organization based in Hallowell. He can be reached at mainecenter@gmail.com. The website is pintetreewatchdog.org.