Gov. Paul LePage, in his last days in office, pardoned former Rep. Jeffrey K. “Jeff” Pierce, R-Dresden, of a 35-year-old felony conviction for drug trafficking.
Maine Public reported the pardon on New Year’s Eve. Pierce confirmed the pardon during a phone interview with The Lincoln County News on New Year’s Day. The governor’s communications staff did not immediately respond to a request for more information.
Pierce’s criminal record, including convictions for drug crimes when he was 18 and 20, became a campaign issue when the Maine Democratic Party publicized it in October, less than three weeks before Election Day. In a press release, the party criticized Pierce’s comments and votes on drug issues.
Pierce was running for a third consecutive term in House District 53, but lost to Rep. Allison Hepler, D-Woolwich.
Pierce, then 21 and living in Augusta, pleaded guilty Nov. 4, 1983 to a single count of class B unlawful trafficking in scheduled drugs in Kennebec County, according to court documents.
Pierce had sold cocaine to a state trooper on April 14, 1983, when he was 20, according to the documents. He was sentenced to eight months in custody with all but 30 days suspended, plus a year of probation.
Pierce said he applied for a pardon before the November election. In the phone interview, he thanked the governor for his decision.
“I know he did his due diligence,” Pierce said. “He doesn’t give out pardons regularly.”
Pierce, now 56, said he has become a productive member of society. In addition to his service in the Legislature, he chairs the Dresden Planning Board and sits on the Dresden Budget Review Committee. He owns and operates a home-restoration business and advocates for Maine’s alewife fishery as president of the Alewife Harvesters of Maine.
After Democrats publicized Pierce’s criminal record, the Maine Warden Service opened an investigation into whether Pierce illegally hunted with firearms while a felon.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with IF&W,” Pierce said, referring to the investigation. The Maine Warden Service is the law enforcement arm of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Pierce said the Maine Warden Service has not contacted him about the investigation.
Pierce said he did not realize he had a felony conviction until shortly before the election, saying he made “an honest mistake.”
“I had no idea I was a felon,” Pierce said. “I was a 19-year-old kid, 20-year-old kid.”
“I’m actually glad I found out this way, rather than if I had been doing something I shouldn’t have been and it came out,” he said. “Then you have serious legal hurdles.”
“In Maine, if you know you’re a felon and you’re a nonviolent felon, you can apply for your hunting rights back after five years,” Pierce said. “So if you knew that, why wouldn’t you have done that?”
“I would recommend to anybody that if they have done anything wrong in their past, that they check, because they don’t want to get into trouble,” he said.
Pierce lost his re-election bid by 117 votes, 2,583-2,466.
He called the Democratic effort “a political witch hunt” and said LePage saw it for what it was.
Pierce will likely run for office again, he said, perhaps in a rematch against Hepler in 2020.