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Sexual assault and other charges dismissed against former Rumford attorney

Susan Sharon
Maine Public/file
File photo of Seth Carey (right).

Multiple charges, including felony gross sexual assault and sex trafficking, have been dropped against a former Rumford attorney and candidate for district attorney. Instead, Seth Carey will pay a $300 fine for a single misdemeanor charge of assault.

Carey's attorney is now calling for an investigation of Maine State Police for their handling of a case he characterizes as an "outrageous abuse of government power."

The way attorney Jim Howaniec sees it, Seth Carey, was the victim of false charges. He says Maine State Police waited three years to bring a multi-count felony sexual assault indictment against his client who was trying to get his law license back and run for district attorney serving Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties.

"You know, Seth Carey lost his law license because an individual came forward and made allegations that he repeatedly sexually assaulted her," Howaniec says.

Howaniec says Carey had been in a relationship with the alleged victim starting in 2016. He says she was the one who approached him on a dating website seeking a sexual relationship and that she filed a complaint against Carey after he sought to end the relationship and asked her to leave his house nearly a year later.

"She filed a protection from abuse order against him alleging various sexual assaults and that led into a rabbit hole where he eventually was, essentially disbarred," Howaniec says.

In the meantime, Howaniec says Maine State Police investigated the case. For three years, nothing happened until seemingly out of the blue, a six-count indictment was brought against Carey who was then temporarily living in Florida. Carey was charged with a range of sexual offenses including attempted gross sexual assault, a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison.

"And rather then just approaching him in Rumford and summonsing him to court, they had U.S. marshals and Florida law enforcement personnel arrest him at rifle point face down in a Walmart parking lot in Orlando, Florida."

While his client spent nine days in a county jail awaiting extradition to Maine, Howaniec says Maine State Police issued a press release thanking law enforcement for the apprehension of someone they characterized as a violent offender. And then, Howaniec says, they quietly released him on a low, $2000 cash bail.

"If this is someone who's so dangerous, you'd ask for a very high cash bail. You'd ask for tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars," Howaniec says.

This week charges against Carey were dropped.

"It became clear that many, if not most, of these charges would be difficult to prove at trial given the burden of 'beyond a reasonable doubt' that the state carries," says Heather Staples, an assistant district attorney in Hancock County where the case had been moved.

Reading from a prepared statement, Staples said victims are at the forefront of decision-making, and "reopening traumatizing wounds for a victim can do far more harm than good."

"We believe that the victim in this case will be satisfied with a misdemeanor conviction albeit not necessarily for the exact crime that she reported," Staples said.

Howaniec called the case "a very high profile prosecution of a person whose never been in any trouble in his life whatsoever.

And even thought the charges have been dismissed, attorney Jim Howaniec says his client's life has been ruined.

"He's obviously devastated by what's happened," Howaniec says. "He doesn't have a job. And this was really inappropriate behavior by the Maine State Police and it really should be investigated."

In a written statement, Col. William Ross of the Maine State Police called Howaniec's claims "disparaging and egregious."

Ross said police take all reports of domestic violence very seriously. He pointed out that the case took place during COVID restrictions but he also said detectives worked diligently interviewing both parties and the charges against Carey were brought by a "duly impaneled grand jury" based on investigative evidence.

Howaniec says he'll ask both the Maine Attorney General and the U.S. Attorney to investigate.

Updated: July 7, 2023 at 4:09 PM EDT
This piece was updated with remarks from a Hancock County assistant district attorney.