AG taking former state employee Cook to court over $4000 travel debt

AUGUSTA — The state is tired of waiting for a former state official to voluntarily pay the $4,314 he has owed for more than two years for bills he ran up on a state credit card.

The state attorney general’s office is going to take 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 on the tourism division. He had spent $4,900 on authorized state travel to places such as New York City, Long Beach, Ca. 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 left owing $802 on a cash travel advance the state had given him.

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting reported the problem in April and Cook a few days later paid $802 towards the debt. 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 the re-development of the Brunswick Naval Air Station.

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

David Farmer, spokesman for Gov. 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 emailed request by the Center for comment and he has no listed telephone number.

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is a nonpartisan, non-profit journal organization based in Hallowell. On the web: pintetreewatchdog.org. Email: mainecenter@gmail.com.

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Jimmy Cook's state travel charges

The Maine Center for Public Interest reporting in a non-partisan non-profit journalism organization.

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