ELLSWORTH — Eliot R. Cutler was arrested Friday for possession of child exploitation material, the Hancock County district attorney said Friday, March 25.

Cutler, 75, a two-time gubernatorial candidate, faces four counts of possession of sexually explicit material of a minor under 12, said Hancock County District Attorney Matt J. Foster.

Troopers from Maine State Police took him into custody at his Brooklin farm without incident following a two-month investigation, Maine state police said.

The four counts are class-C felonies, punishable by up to five years in prison, but more charges may be forthcoming, Foster said.

Cutler’s bail was set at $50,000. Foster said an arrest affidavit will not be unsealed until Cutler makes his first appearance in court. It’s unclear yet when he will see a judge. If Cutler, a wealthy attorney, does not make bail, he could see a courtroom as soon as Monday.

Cutler’s homes in Portland and Brooklin were searched this week by Maine State Police. Foster and state troopers decided together on Friday to charge Cutler immediately.

“I believe the State Police wanted to make sure there were bail conditions in place,” Foster said.

Cutler’s attorney, Walt McKee of Augusta, confirmed the arrest but declined to discuss the contents of the search warrant.

“I can’t comment on anything,” McKee said as he drove to Ellsworth, where the jail is located. “I have a lot to deal with going forward.”

Police have not spoken yet about why they searched Cutler’s residences at 84 Pine St. in Portland and 523 Naskeag Point Road in the Hancock County town of Brooklin — only that the searches were prompted by a two-month investigation. On Friday, McKee said the charges appear to be an outgrowth of the search warrants.

Cutler has declined to comment to reporters.

He and his wife, Melanie, lived for many years in a 15,000-square-foot mansion on Shore Road in Cape Elizabeth, which they sold last year.

The Bangor native twice ran unsuccessfully for Maine governor, in 2010 and 2014. Prior to that, he was a longtime attorney, mostly in Washington, D.C. Before that, he worked for U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie, a Democrat from Maine, and in the administration of President Jimmy Carter.

Following his second campaign for governor, Cutler was hired by the University of Maine System to help launch a graduate business and law school.

As for the searches of Cutler’s properties, it’s possible more information could come out in court.

In Maine, a judge must sign off on every search warrant. To get judicial approval, police must show they have enough evidence connecting a person to a crime, a threshold known as probable cause. Searches are not fishing expeditions, though. The warrant must be specific about what types of information or evidence police are seeking. Police are permitted to seize only property or information that closely matches what they said they were looking for.

After a search, police must file a receipt with the courts listing the items they seized. Searches don’t always lead to criminal charges but are a sign that an investigation has intensified.

After the searches of his homes Wednesday, March 23, Cutler resigned as president of the board of  the Lerner Foundation, a Portland-based nonprofit. The foundation set up six projects in rural Maine to encourage students to pursue higher education. The news of the resignation was first reported by the Bangor Daily News.

“We were deeply disturbed to learn about the serious accusations brought against Eliot Cutler today,” the foundation’s executive director, Don Carpenter, wrote in an email on Friday. “In his former role on the Board of Directors, Eliot was involved in high-level strategy and governance and did not directly interface with students who participated in grant funded programming.”

Cutler has been involved with the Lerner Foundation since its creation in 2007. The organization’s namesakes, Emanuel and Pauline Lerner, were close friends of Cutler’s family. When her husband died, Pauline was looking for a way to do something helpful with the couple’s sizable estate. The foundation started with a $4 million endowment and over its first decade awarded roughly $20 million in grants to various causes.

More recently, the foundation has shifted its focus to its “Aspirations Incubator” program  in rural Maine.

Cutler, as board president, earned $50,000 from the Lerner Foundation, according to the organization’s most recent tax filing in 2019. The document also indicated that Melanie Cutler was on the board of directors as well.

The state police Computer Crimes Unit receives scores of tips each year from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a federally designated conduit between internet service providers and technology companies, which report suspected child exploitation material to the center. The center’s staff vets the tips before passing them off to police in the jurisdictions of the people who uploaded or downloaded the material.

Investigators then connect the dots between the owners of the internet service subscriptions and the people they suspect of having accessed or handled in the material.

Sen. William Diamond, a Democrat from Windham, has fought in the Legislature to grant more funding to the unit, which has a backlog of cases.

This year, Maine State Police were authorized to hire two more detectives and an additional analyst to sift through the material, Diamond said in a phone interview Friday.

“When you see the kind of people who are involved in this, it cuts across all levels,” Diamond said. “The people have the money to spend to buy these things, which means there has to be more production, because there needs to be new faces.”

Diamond said the backlog amounts to “hard evidence against these perpetrators,” and that since the new hires, it has been reduced.

“Until they can get to the evidence, the perpetrators are out on the street doing their thing,” Diamond said.