LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - An eastern Kentucky judge-executive could be kicked out of office and spend at least three years in prison for allegedly violating a largely ignored and rarely prosecuted state statute.
Morgan County judge-executive Timothy Conley was charged by a special grand jury on May 21 on three counts of abuse of public trust, a Class D felony.
The grand jury alleges that Conley, a Republican, handed out over $1,400 worth of county owned drain pipe to private entities and had the county do $650 worth of repairs on a bulldozer he owned. The infractions, though relatively small, were not taken lightly by the grand jury headed by special prosecutor Brent Turner.
"Our decision to return an indictment against Judge Tim Conley was not reached lightly," the grand jury's report said. "In the end, as much as we wanted to give Judge Conley the benefit of the doubt, we simply could not ignore what we believe are clear violations of the law."
Conley may be among the first public officials in Kentucky to be prosecuted for violating the 2003 Abuse of Public Trust statute. The bill was passed unanimously by both the House and Senate at the urging of state Sen. Richard Roeding, R-Lakeside Park.
The bill was introduced in response to the actions of former Florence city finance director Ron Epling, who stole more than $4.2 million from the city over the course of 15 years. Epling was sentenced to three years in prison for theft but died in prison after serving about 10 months.
The new statute stiffened penalties against those convicted of violating the law. If Conley is found guilty, he would face three years in prison and be barred from holding public office.
The investigation headed by the Kentucky Bureau of Investigation, which is part of the attorney general's office, began last fall. The grand jury alleges that Conley gave one resident a 20-foot section of county-owned drain pipe and a Baptist Church three sections of drain pipe valued at $900. Conley also had the city pay about $650 for repairs to a bulldozer he owned that he lent out to the county.
Conley repaid the county for the repairs, but only after the investigation began, the report said.
Violations such as the ones Conley allegedly committed are all relatively common but hardly ever prosecuted in Kentucky said Patty Wallace, a member of the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.
"That's one of the perks, isn't it?" Wallace said. "You give people drain pipes, pave their driveways, build their bridges and they vote for you. He wouldn't be the first one to do this and if so, he won't be the last, but if he's breaking the law, he needs to be prosecuted; they all do."
Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)