FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Gov. Ernie Fletcher approved a "widespread and coordinated plan" to violate state hiring laws, according to a special grand jury report released Wednesday.

The Franklin County special grand jury said the hiring plan implemented by Fletcher's administration was designed at the "highest level of state government" and those who interfered were "fired or moved."

The grand jury returned 29 indictments in the case during a 15-month investigation, including one that charged Fletcher with criminal conspiracy, official misconduct and political discrimination. The charges against Fletcher later were dismissed in an agreement with prosecutors.

Fletcher, in Japan on an economic development mission, released a statement shortly after the grand jury report became public, saying it contained "the same old stuff." In a statement read by Press Secretary Jodi Whitaker, Fletcher said he supported releasing the report to the public.

"Given that the prosecutors have dropped all charges, the document reads more like a savvy litany of political sound bites rather than a legal document of purported evidence," he said.

Fletcher has announced that he is seeking re-election to a second term next year, and he has maintained that the investigation was politically motivated. Fletcher has blamed the investigation on one of his potential Democratic gubernatorial challengers, Attorney General Greg Stumbo, whose office assisted the grand jury with the probe. Stumbo has said he expects to make a decision by December on whether he will run for governor.

"We heard several times that this investigation was 'political,"' the grand jury said in its report. "... This investigation was not a Republican or Democrat investigation."

The grand jury said candidates seeking new jobs or promotions and their families were hurt by the scheme.

"People were wrongfully fired and demoted. Others were transferred to distant locations to pressure them to retire or resign. People less qualified were hired simply because they supported Governor Fletcher financially or politically," the report said.

Franklin County Circuit Judge Reed Rhorer released the report following a closed-door meeting with Fletcher's attorneys and prosecutors.

The grand jury completed its report and presented it to Rhorer last month. Rhorer said he would follow a court order to let the governor's lawyers see the report in private and allow them to make any objections before releasing it to the public.

Prosecutor Scott Crawford Sutherland said the grand jury report "speaks for itself."

"This report is not the attorney general's report. It's not the court's report. It's not the governor's report," he said. "It is the people's report, and they will now have an opportunity - and they have a right - to know what has been going in their government and today they will have that opportunity."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved


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