FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - State Sen. Johnny Ray Turner pleaded
guilty to a misdemeanor vote-buying charge on Wednesday, according
to the U.S. attorney's office.
Turner, a Democrat from Floyd County in eastern Kentucky,
entered his plea to a "nonwillful" violation in U.S. District
Court in Pikeville, said Brent L. Caldwell, his attorney.
The senator is scheduled for sentencing on March 27 in Pikeville and
faces possible penalties up to a year in prison and a $100,000
fine, Caldwell said.
"It is not an admission that he did anything intentionally wrong," Caldwell said in a telephone interview. "It's a negligent-type violation."
The case stems from Turner's 2000 state Senate primary race in
which he defeated fellow Democrat Benny Ray Bailey, a veteran
incumbent at the time.
Turner and two others were charged in May 2005 with mail fraud and conspiracy.
Prosecutors claimed Turner; his cousin, Loren Glenn Turner; and Ross Harris, who is now deceased, took part in a scheme to rig Turner's victory.
Turner finished that race with 1,467 more votes than Bailey,
according to the state Board of Elections.
He was unopposed in the general election.
The indictment against Turner claimed, among other things, that
money from Harris was funneled to Turner through straw contributions.
Prosecutors agreed to dismiss a felony conspiracy charge against Turner in exchange for his guilty plea, Caldwell said.
Essentially, Turner acknowledged he didn't properly manage his campaign, but he didn't do anything intentionally wrong, Caldwell said.
"The U.S. attorney's office, by entering into this agreement, has acknowledged that," Caldwell said.
Turner, who as caucus chairman is the second-ranking Democrat in
the chamber, intends to remain in the Senate, Caldwell said.
He won re-election in 2004 by 24 votes over Eric Shane Hamilton in the
Democratic primary and was unopposed in the general election.
Turner's current term ends in 2008.
Senate Minority Leader Ed Worley, D-Richmond, said he thought
Turner should remain a senator and that the chamber should not take
any action against him.
"Johnny Ray Turner is one of the finest members in the Senate," Worley said. "He is an honorable man. He means no animosity or ill will toward anyone."
Associated Press Writer Bruce Schreiner contributed to this
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)