BELFAST — Owners of 19 Church St., Benjamin and April Walker, were accused of submitting a forged Belfast building permit in an Oct. 14 civil court filing. Defense attorney Christopher MacLean made the accusation in a motion in a defamation suit April and her mother, R.M. Woodford, brought against several people, including city councilors Mike Hurley and Neal Harkness.

In an Aug. 10 email that Planning and Codes Director Bub Fournier sent to City Manager Erin Herbig and City Attorney Kristin Collins, he states that the permit was not generated by the city. The email is an exhibit in a motion MacLean filed in the defamation lawsuit. Fournier confirmed to The Republican Journal that he sent the email.

The Walkers’ attorney gave the permit to the city as proof of prior permitting, City Manager Erin Herbig told The Republican Journal in an email. City attorney Kristin Collins asked city staff to verify the document, and Fournier could not find any record of the permit, Herbig said.

Fournier outlines several issues with the permit, dated Nov. 18, 2021, which would have gone through the online electronic permitting system called iWorQ, he said in the email. The filing number on the invalid permit is 543 but a search of the city’s electronic filing system lists a completely different permit under that filing number for renovations to a property on Searsport Avenue in East Belfast.

On the permit and on the permit’s application in question, the calculated permit fee was wrong for the listed project cost, Fournier said in the email. The handwriting in the section of the permit application that city staff fill out does not match any staff handwriting, and Code Enforcement Officer Steve Wilson’s signature on the application is not consistent with his handwriting style. The listed tax map and lot number of the Church Street property on the permit are also incorrect.

Fournier identified other inconsistencies within the permit documents, such as an incorrect zoning district, inconsistent ownership information with that in city documents, and an incorrect street address, along with several other inaccuracies.

April Walker and Woodford live at the White House on Church Street, which is undergoing renovations. The permit in question appears to give the Walkers approval to make paving and grading renovations to a boundary point, construct boundary hardscape, plant 47 ornamental landscape elements, erect a privacy fence, and install a sign and sculpture garden.

This summer, the Walkers submitted to the city a building permit application to construct a privacy fence. The couple started constructing the fence when the city was notified and, in turn, told the couple they had to submit a permit application for any fence over 4 feet tall, Fournier told the Journal in an Aug. 4 interview. The fence has not yet been erected.

The Planning and Codes Office is still waiting for further information it requested from property owners for the fence permit, Fournier said. The couple’s attorney gave the disputed permit to the city as supporting documentation for the fence permit, according to Herbig.

In May 2021, the Church Street residents filed a complaint in court against Harkness, Hurley, Cheryl Fuller, Mandy Marriner-Everett, Anne Saggese, Joshua Ard and Erik Klausmeyer alleging defamation, false light and intentional infliction of emotional distress for Facebook posts the defendants all allegedly created.

Some of the alleged defamatory Facebook comments include suggesting that the residents use their home for sex trafficking and to host sex parties. Other alleged comments suggest their home is a “whorehouse” and accuse them of spreading disease in the city, along with other alleged inflammatory comments.

The complaint claims that Hurley encouraged the alleged Facebook comments, which were allegedly shared on his Facebook page You Know You Love Belfast If…, by not removing or addressing the defamatory comments.

Woodford and April claim the alleged Facebook comments were retribution for their opposition to a 2018 proposal to turn the nearby Peirce School into apartments, a proposal that never came to fruition, the lawsuit claims. The two were harassed when that building proposal fell through.

Attorney MacLean maintains the Facebook posts are not authentic and used the allegedly forged building permit to suggest there is an established pattern of behavior, stating that creating false documents is part of a common scheme or plan they are involved in, according to court documents.

The city notified the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office that it believes the document was not generated by the city, Herbig said. Chief Deputy Jason Trundy said the office is investigating the document but as of Nov. 4 it had not issued any summonses in the case. Trundy could not release any details about the investigation.

The Walkers’ attorney Timothy Zerillo denies that his clients forged anything, he told The Republican Journal in an email.

“My clients are in the midst of a contentious civil action in which they contend that various Belfast defendants have defamed them, including several elected officials,” he said in the email. “Now, these defendants seek sanctions, alleging the forgery of fence permits. … We certainly hope these allegations do not result in any further court cases, but if they do, we will vigorously defend any such accusations.”

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