The man running for reelection as the top prosecutor for Hancock and Washington counties was criminally investigated in 2017 and 2018 for allegedly sexually abusing a child, and then he lied about the investigation at a recent public forum.
Matthew Foster, a Republican running for a third term as district attorney, was asked during an Oct. 12 candidates forum whether he had ever been criminally investigated by the Maine attorney general’s office since becoming an attorney.
He answered, “No.”
But in October 2017, Kathleen Hinerman, who briefly lived with Foster in Ellsworth as a child, reported to the Maine State Police that Foster had touched her in an inappropriately sexual manner on multiple occassions when she was 13, she said.
The Office of the Maine Attorney General, the law enforcement agency that investigates public officials, took over the case and ultimately decided not to press charges.
Hinerman has stood by the allegations. In addition to police, she told others in recent years about the alleged abuse, including family members, lawyers, a therapist and a private investigator. Her descriptions of what happened were consistent in her interviews with the Bangor Daily News and records of past conversations.
Hinerman decided to come forward publicly after Foster denied the investigation at a candidate’s forum, which was hosted and live streamed by the League of Women Voters of Maine and local Hancock County newspapers.
“I think he should be held accountable, and I think the public should know who they have as their DA,” Hinerman said. “He is not the man he portrays himself to be.”
She submitted a complaint to the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar, which governs the conduct of Maine lawyers and can discipline them for dishonesty, last month after hearing Foster’s comments at the forum.
Foster, who was first elected in 2014, declined to comment on the sexual abuse allegations when reached by phone Thursday morning.
As for his answer at the forum, Foster said it is against the law to release investigative information and, as a member of a criminal justice agency, he believed “the question was asked to get me to commit a crime of releasing that information or have to deny it.”
When asked if denying an investigation constituted an answer in itself, he said, “I suppose it is.”
Later on Thursday, his attorney, Walt McKee, said Foster was caught off guard at the forum.
“Clearly the better answer would have been to say he could neither confirm nor deny that he had ever been investigated, and that would have been a permissible response under old Maine law, but the statute that allowed that was repealed in 2021 with no replacement. He was in an impossible position,” McKee said.
McKee called Hinerman’s allegations “baseless.” Foster cooperated fully with police during the investigation, and the matter was closed after he passed two separate lie detector tests, he said.
“It is dumbfounding to see this kind of attack come against Matt, who was totally cleared of any wrongdoing, something this complainant knows full well. It is clearly an effort to smear Matt,” McKee said.
Hinerman, now 25 and a nurse in Bangor, met Foster when she was a kid because he dated her aunt and then represented her mother in a matter related to her parents’ divorce. The alleged abuse took place during a period of six to eight months when Foster allowed Hinerman and her mother to live with him in his Ellsworth home in late 2009 and 2010, she said. The family’s rental apartment had fallen into disrepair, and they had needed a place to stay. Hinerman had just turned 13.
Foster confirmed that he allowed them to live with him in a written response to a complaint that Darrel Hinerman, Kathleen Hinerman’s father, submitted in 2009 to the board of overseers. Darrel Hinerman, a former reserve officer for the Machias Police Department, had alleged it was improper for Foster to let a client live with him.
Foster denied any impropriety in his response, a copy of which Darrel Hinerman received and provided to the BDN. Foster was not disciplined and has never been disciplined by the board of overseers.
Kathleen Hinerman said Foster made her feel special by paying attention to her and giving her expensive gifts, including a laptop for Christmas, a pair of sneakers, and, when she and her family eventually moved out, a gold ring with diamonds that he told her had belonged to his mother.
She later came to view this treatment as grooming. She provided the ring to police as evidence, according to a receipt signed by a detective with the attorney general’s office.
Foster eventually touched and kissed Hinerman in a sexual manner on multiple occasions when she lived with him, she said. After she and her mother moved out, their contact became less frequent. As years passed, she realized that what happened was wrong and struggled with feelings of guilt, she said.
She didn’t tell anyone until mid-October 2017, when someone close to her confided their own sexual abuse, and Hinerman responded that she had also been a victim. Soon after, she told her mother and her aunt, who encouraged her to go to the police.
Maine State Police Detective Jennifer Fiske interviewed Hinerman on Oct. 25, 2017, according to a summary of the interview provided to Hinerman by the Maine attorney general’s office. The office redacted identifying information about the subject of the investigation, but the document states that Hinerman described having been sexually abused when she was 13 by a man she and her mother moved in with in 2009. She told the detective details of at least five specific incidents of sexual touching.
The attorney general’s office eventually took over the case, according to a redacted case report authored by Detective Peter Lizanecz, dated Sept. 9, 2018.
During the police investigation, Hinerman tried to get Foster to admit to the abuse in a telephone call that was being recorded by police, but he didn’t, and then he stopped answering her phone calls, she said.
McKee said his client passed two lie detector tests administered by separate examiners.
“That showed that he was telling the truth that he never, ever engaged in any improper behavior at all. The matter was completely closed, correctly, at that time,” McKee said.
Officials with the attorney general’s office mentioned the polygraph tests when they told Hinerman that they did not think they could convince a jury of Foster’s guilt, she said. Hinerman offered to take a test herself, but officials told her she didn’t need to because they already believed her, she said.
“I was very upset, and I felt defeated and let down by the justice system,” Hinerman said.
A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office declined to comment on the matter other than to confirm that no charges were brought against Foster.
In addition to telling police, Hinerman has made consistent allegations against Foster to other professionals since she first told family members in 2017.
She saw a therapist in 2018 to treat mental health symptoms related to the alleged abuse. An intake form completed by her then-therapist states that Hinerman sought treatment after having been molested by a man that she lived with when she was 12, and who is now the district attorney for Hancock and Washington counties. Hinerman obtained the form and provided it to the BDN.
She also recounted the allegations to a private investigator in September 2020.
At that time, she was considering bringing a civil lawsuit against Foster and approached a Bangor lawyer, Larry Willey. Willey hired Sharon Worcester, a private investigator, to look into the case, and she conducted a lengthy interview with Hinerman. A written summary of the interview contains the same allegations that Hinerman previously told police. It names Foster.
Alexis Chardon, another lawyer whom Hinerman spoke to in 2020 about a potential civil case, also confirmed that Hinerman reported Foster as the person who abused her as a child.
Hinerman ultimately decided not to move forward with a lawsuit at the time because she was busy in nursing school, she said.
When Hinerman learned that Foster and his opponent, Robert Granger, would be participating in a public forum, and the moderators were taking questions from the public, her father decided to submit the question about whether either candidate had previously been investigated.
She wasn’t entirely sure what Foster would say in response, but she didn’t expect him to deny it.
When he did, she said, “I was outraged.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Matthew Foster was running in the state’s only contested race. He is the only incumbent facing reelection.