AUGUSTA, Maine — The chance for Maine voters to decide in November whether to legalize marijuana comes down to the disputed signature of one person — notary and former lawmaker Stavros J. Mendros.
Mendros, who has a 2007 conviction related to his notary practice and who has been fined twice by the state ethics commission, helped organize the petition drive to get the marijuana question on the ballot.
About 17,000 signatures on petitions he notarized were thrown out by state election officials who said the notary’s signature at the bottom didn’t match the signature they had on file. The signatures would have helped bring the numbers to the required total to get on the ballot.
Petition organizers filed an appeal on March 10.
Mendros did not return several phone messages.
In 2007, Mendros pleaded guilty to three counts of false acknowledgment of oath stemming from misuse of his notary commission. According to the Sun Journal in Lewiston, he was fined $1,000 for one of the counts and $500 apiece for two others. His notary commission was not suspended in the case.
The former state representative from Lewiston also was fined $1,000 in 1999 by the state ethics commission. He was accused of willfully failing to file an income disclosure statement on time. And in 2013, the commission fined him and a partner $15,000 fine for allegedly misleading investigators and the public over the source of funds for a 2011 ballot initiative for a casino in Lewiston.
David Boyer, manager of the pro-marijuana campaign, said he and a lawyer examined the disputed signatures and compared them to the signature on records at the secretary of state’s office.
“They looked similar enough to us,” he said in a recent interview. “They were only thrown out because of a hand cramp. This guy (Mendros) did a lot. The signatures are his. We are going to prove that. We are convinced.”
Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap had said in rejecting the petitions that the notary’s signature is “significantly different” than what his office has on file.
“The differences were notable and dramatic enough, so even town clerks were raising it to our attention,” Dunlap said.
Each petition — a single sheet of paper containing 50 or 60 signatures — includes a mandatory circulator affidavit. Maine law requires people who circulate the petition to sign the affidavit before a public notary. Circulators must swear to and sign a statement that they witnessed every act of signing the petition.
Boyer’s group, along with another pro-marijuana group, paid Mendros’ company, Olympics Consulting, $73,000 to collect signatures for the ballot initiative in 2015, documents filed with the Maine Ethics Commission show.
Olympics Consulting is also linked to irregularities in another disqualified petition drive that would allow a casino in York County. A political action committee behind that ballot question paid Mendros’ company $133,000, according to campaign finance records filed with the state.
Dunlap’s office rejected more than 55,000 of the 91,000 signatures that were submitted for the casino initiative. That left supporters without enough signatures to get the question on the ballot. Petition circulators, who made as much as $10 per signature, were criticized for misleading tactics, and some complained they were never paid.