January 18, 2022

Man convicted in theft must be resentenced > Court rules one count was enough

PORTLAND — A man convicted of receiving more than $500,000 that his mother stole from a Brunswick church must be sentenced again, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled Monday.

The court said Michael Fournier of Biddeford should have been charged with just one count of aggravated theft, instead of the 15 counts of which he was convicted in 1991.

The money had been stolen from St. John the Baptist church by Fournier’s mother, Muriel Fournier.

The court, in a 4-1 decision, said the thefts were part of “one scheme” and under state law should have been included in one charge.

However, it disagreed with Fournier’s contention that he should be granted a new trial and instead sent the case back to Superior Court for resentencing.

“Since the defendant was proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of each of the 15 counts of Class B theft by receiving, the proper remedy is to merge the guilty verdicts into a single conviction of Class B theft by receiving, subjecting the defendant to only one sentence for that conviction,” Chief Judge Daniel Wathen wrote for the court’s majority.

But it was unclear Monday whether the high court decision would mean a shorter sentence for Fournier.

The maximum sentence for one count of Class B theft is 10 years in prison — two years longer than the eight-year sentence Fournier received for 15 counts.

Fournier’s lawyer, James Boone, said his client will at least receive a shorter period of probation. He had been sentenced to 12 years probation following his prison term, but the maximum probation term for one count of theft is four years, he said.

Muriel Fournier pleaded guilty in September 1990 to embezzling $516,000 from the church where she worked as a bookkeeper for 25 years. She served nine months in prison.

At her son’s trial, Mrs. Fournier testified that Michael badgered her for money. She said she began stealing from the church when she ran out of her own money and depleted a $35,000 inheritance.

Testimony revealed that Michael Fournier and his wife, Shelley Cook, indulged themselves on the stolen money, traveling extensively, buying a lakefront camp and luxury cars, and renting and furnishing an ostentatious home.

Justice Samuel Collins Jr. dissented from the decision, which he said left prosecutors with the choice of charging Fournier with 180 counts of theft or just one count.

“Charging by separate counts would create an unnecessarily complex and lengthy trial. Charging only a single count, on the other hand, would not adequately reflect the seriousness of Fournier’s conduct,” the dissenting judge said.

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