David Oakes, the former longtime manager of the now-shuttered Searsport Antique Mall, is shown in this 2016 file photo. Oakes is accused of embezzling about $70,000 from the Searsport Historical Society. Credit: Abigail Curtis / BDN

SEARSPORT, Maine — The former treasurer of the Searsport Historical Society has been accused of embezzling about $70,000 from the nonprofit organization over the course of 11 years.

David Oakes, 57, of Frankfort was indicted on March 23 by the Waldo County Grand Jury on a Class B charge of theft by deception. He will be arraigned Tuesday morning at the Waldo Judicial Center in Belfast.

The thefts took place from 2010 to 2021, according to Rosemarie Guimaraes, the Waldo County assistant district attorney. They stopped a year ago after a bank got in touch with the president of the historical society to alert her that the group’s account was overdrawn.

“He had access to the checkbook,” Guimaraes said Thursday. “He’s in charge of all the books. They trusted him. He’d report that everything was fine. But it was not fine.”

The alleged actions by Oakes, who also worked for 25 years as the manager of the now-shuttered Searsport Antique Mall, blindsided historical society members including Karen Kelley, the president.

“I’m still dumbfounded that somebody we trusted could do this,” Kelley said. “Everybody liked him.”

Oakes’ attorney, Caitlyn Smith of Bangor, declined to comment about the case.

The former treasurer of the Searsport Historical Society is accused of embezzling $70,000 from the volunteer-run organization over the course of 11 years. Credit: Abigail Curtis / BDN

The all-volunteer Searsport Historical Society has around 100 members, Kelley said. The group raises money through donations, fundraisers, bequests and grants to use for various projects. One such project is a planned new building, to be constructed at the historical society’s property on the Sears Island Road off Route 1. Members are looking forward to the building, which will house artifacts including the postal equipment from the first post office in Searsport and school equipment from different eras.

“They’re beautiful old things and we want to be able to show them off,” Kelley said.

But although the group worked hard to raise money at bake sales, a chowder fundraiser at annual town meeting, a variety show in early July, a popular holiday home tour and more, they never got very far ahead on their projects.

Now, Kelley says she understands why.

“There’s a lot of red flags, but I don’t know much about finance,” she said. “I just thought he was lazy and he didn’t pay the bills on time. As it turns out, he wasn’t paying many bills at all.”

The society was supposed to have an independent financial audit done periodically, but members believed Oakes when he told them he had taken care of it, Guimaraes said. Instead, he is accused of writing checks out to himself, to his mother and to some friends over the decade-long period.

In that time, the historical society was the beneficiary of a $10,000 bequest from a local resident. But Oakes took the money himself rather than put it into the proper account, Guimaraes said.

Oakes also is charged with bouncing an $8,000 check, which is tangentially connected to the embezzlement. He borrowed money from another person to partially repay the historical society, the prosecutor said. But the check he wrote to repay that person did not clear.

The alleged embezzlement is likely to generate shockwaves in the close-knit midcoast community, where Oakes was well-known and well-liked, Guimaraes said. Some members of the historical society had booths at the Antique Mall, and many considered him their friend.

“A best friend, in some cases,” she said. “It’s a hard one. Their biggest impact from this is that they don’t trust anybody anymore.”

She described the alleged crime as “significant.”

“It’s not only the dollar amount but the length of time,” Guimaraes said. “It was clear from his behavior that he was just praying to never get caught.”

Kelley said that Oakes has made an effort to make some payments to the historical society since the alleged embezzlement was discovered in March 2021. Still, the situation has left a big scar, she said.  

“He’s damaged the trust of a lot of people,” she said. “It’s just very sad.”