Former Governor Fletcher Appointee Pleads Guilty To Misconduct

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - One of Gov. Ernie Fletcher's former
political appointees avoided an election-year perjury trial on
Monday by pleading guilty to official misconduct, but may have
created even more political problems for his ex-boss in the
process.
Sam Beverage, the only person still facing criminal charges from
a special grand jury probe into the Fletcher administration's
hiring practices, avoided the possibility of a five-year prison
sentence when he agreed to the deal.
"This is probably the best situation he could get short of
going to trial," Burl McCoy, Beverage's attorney, said.
Judge Thomas D. Wingate approved a plea bargain that reduced a
felony perjury charge against Beverage to misdemeanor misconduct,
ending the last criminal case remaining from a hiring scandal that
politically weakened Kentucky's first Republican governor in more
than 30 years.
Beverage faces up to a year in jail, though the prosecutor has
said he will not oppose probation. Wingate set sentencing for June
29.
But Beverage may have created more troubles for Fletcher, who is
seeking a second term.
Beverage met with prosecutor Larry Cleveland before his court
appearance and gave testimony that would be passed on to the
attorney general's office for more review, Cleveland said.
Beverage, the state's former chief highway engineer, claimed some
state highway contracts had been steered toward certain vendors,
Cleveland said.
The prosecutor declined to provide specific details of
Beverage's allegations.
"I'm not real well-versed in the legalities of awarding state
contracts, but it seemed improper to me," Cleveland, the Franklin
County commonwealth's attorney, said.
Fletcher spokeswoman Jodi Whitaker declined comment.
Transportation Cabinet spokesman Doug Hogan said he was not
aware of any improprieties that occurred.
"This person was originally indicted on perjury charges, and
that calls into question the credibility of the statements," Hogan
said.
Cleveland, however, told reporters earlier that he did not
consider what Beverage said to be "vengeful or retaliatory in any
way."
Beverage declined to comment leaving the courtroom.
McCoy said his client "never misstated the truth" to the grand
jury that indicted him, but wanted to avoid the cost and
uncertainty of going to trial. McCoy confirmed that Beverage was
"cooperating with the commonwealth completely."
Fletcher is running for re-election, and the hiring scandal has
been a key issue in the race.
Beverage was named in an indictment issued by a special grand
jury that investigated complaints that Fletcher and his aides
improperly rewarded political supporters with protected state jobs
after he took office in 2003.
The grand jury returned 29 indictments, one of which charged
Fletcher with criminal conspiracy, official misconduct and
political discrimination. The charges against Fletcher were dropped
in an agreement with prosecutors, even though the grand jury
concluded that he had approved a "widespread and coordinated
plan" to skirt state hiring laws so political supporters could be
rewarded with jobs.
Fletcher issued pardons in 2005 for everyone else charged in the
probe. The perjury charge against Beverage wasn't covered because
it allegedly occurred after the pardons were issued.
While the criminal charges have now been resolved, civil cases
are pending before the state Personnel Board and the Executive
Branch Ethics Commission. An ethics panel earlier this month
charged four former high-ranking Fletcher administration officials
with alleged violations of the state ethics law.
Still, Beverage's deal with prosecutors could possibly lead to
another investigation, Cleveland said.
Vicki Glass, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, declined
comment.
Among staunch supporters, Fletcher would likely be unaffected,
but the timing could hurt his re-election efforts said Laurie
Rhodebeck, a University of Louisville associate professor of
political science.
"For the die-hard Fletcher supporters it's just old news and
they feel that Fletcher has addressed the issue and kind of
apologized," Rhodebeck said. "To come up with this new angle or
new area is to suggest that, 'Gosh, maybe there are more things
that we don't know about."'

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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