Augusta lobbyist Cheryl Timberlake, left, sits next to her lawyer, Avery Day, as she is cross-examined by Thimi Mina, an attorney for a company run by developer Shawn Scott, who is behind the York County casino bid on Maine's ballot next week. Credit: Michael Shepherd

AUGUSTA, Maine — The treasurer of the political committee that once ran the York County casino referendum bid that Maine voters will decide on Nov. 7 told state ethics watchdogs on Tuesday that the effort’s true funders were kept from her and remain “a mystery to me.”

Finger-pointing between Augusta lobbyist Cheryl Timberlake and Lisa Scott, the sister of the chief backer of Question 1, ensued as the Maine Ethics Commission prepared to close a months-long investigation that may end with millions of dollars in penalties.

A Nevada company controlled by Shawn Scott, a developer who lives in the Northern Mariana Islands, would be the only entity that could win rights to a new York County casino if Question 1 passes next Tuesday. He entered the public campaign in August.

Before that, it was fronted by Lisa Scott. The ethics commission began investigating the initiative’s backers in June after Horseracing Jobs Fairness, the political committee that she ran, amended financial filings in April to say that $4.3 million in campaign funds first attributed to her came from Capital Seven, the Nevada company, and a Japanese consulting company.

All of those donations could be considered late under Maine law. If they are, the commission could assess a dollar-for-dollar penalty, though Lisa Scott has argued that they shouldn’t be considered late. The commission is expected to determine penalties at a Friday meeting.

Timberlake, Lisa Scott, Capital Seven and Bridge Capital, another Shawn Scott company in the Northern Mariana Islands, were arguing their case for lower penalties before the commission on Tuesday. Commissioners heard widely divergent stories from Timberlake and Lisa Scott, with the two disagreeing on what Timberlake knew about Shawn Scott’s involvement in the project.

Timberlake said that Lisa Scott told her in “multiple conversations” while working for her the money going into Horseracing Jobs Fairness was her own. Timberlake said that she believed her.

“The source or the evolution of these monies, quite candidly, is still a mystery to me,” she said.

But Lisa Scott refuted that, saying she told Timberlake of Shawn Scott’s involvement, including during a meeting at Slate’s Restaurant in Hallowell before the campaign began in 2015. She said she and Timberlake were personal friends and that Timberlake knew she didn’t have millions to commit to a referendum.

“I really hate to say this because I consider Cheryl one of my closest friends, but her testimony today simply was not true,” Lisa Scott said. “I’m sad and I think she’s probably scared, but I just wanted to say that.”

The commission is trying to answer three main questions:

— Whether Lisa Scott and two other companies should have registered with the state and filed campaign finance reports.

— Whether Horseracing Jobs Fairness’ reports should be considered late.

— Whether other groups should have filed finance reports.

Letters filed with the commission by Lisa Scott and Timberlake reference recommended penalties from the commission and Jonathan Wayne, the commission’s executive director, said on Tuesday that they’re “very large.” However, Mainers can’t know what they are for now.

In a rare step, the ethics panel took testimony from backers on Tuesday without releasing a report from commission staff laying out the recommended penalties, even though documents serving as exhibits to that report were being read aloud in a public meeting.

Wayne said it was being withheld as an investigative document amid objections to its release from casino backers. Commissioners haven’t decided when to release it. The Bangor Daily News has filed a public records request for the report.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...