Gov. Paul LePage has pardoned a former Republican state lawmaker for a 35-year-old felony-level drug trafficking conviction, a move that could affect an ongoing investigation into whether that same lawmaker illegally hunted with firearms.
Former state Rep. Jeffrey Pierce, of Dresden, said he requested clemency for the conviction, and that he was notified by LePage's office that the Governor had signed the pardon late last week.
Pierce did not agree to a recorded interview, but he reiterated previous comments in which he described the conviction as ancient history, and the Maine Democratic Party's move to publicize his past during his unsuccessful reelection bid as ‘dirty politics.’
Pierce also acknowledged that he had hunted with firearms since his conviction, but says he didn't realize that he was violating state and federal laws, which prohibit anyone convicted of a felony-level crime from possessing firearms.
The firearms violation is the subject of an investigation by the Maine Warden Service, a probe that's still open according to spokesperson John MacDonald.
Under state law, a pardon does not expunge a criminal record, but makes it confidential in most instances.
The governor's office did not respond to emails or a phone message seeking comment.
Pierce was among a core group of House Republicans who were loyal to LePage during his two terms as governor.
LePage's final day in office is Wednesday. He will be succeeded Democratic Gov.-elect Janet Mills.
Pierce was convicted of felony-level drug trafficking in 1983 after selling cocaine and marijuana to an undercover police officer. He has other misdemeanor offenses for the years between 1980 and 2006.
State and federal laws bar convicted felongs from possessing firearms. It's also unlawful for a felon to obtain a firearms hunting permit and applications expressly ask people apply for licenses to state whether they've been convicted of a crime.
LePage has take a tough approach and drug traffickers, in particular. He has supported tougher sentences for drug traffickers and pushed for more law enforcement resources to combat the Maine opioid crisis.
His position has caused controversy, first for joking during a radio interview that convicted traffickers should be executed by the guillotine, and later for falsely suggesting that the majority of people arrested for drug trafficking are black or hispanic.
Pierce says he has long since moved on from his checkered past. He told Maine Public Radio that he was upset when Democrats publicized his criminal record during the campaign.
Pierce lost his reelection bid to Allison Hepler. He says he plans to release a full statement about his pardon sometime on New Year's Day.
Originally published 5:24 p.m. Monday Dec. 31, 2018