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Bluegrass Conspiracies Scandals Beset Ky. Governors

Alex Constantine - October 18, 2007

(Thanks to Michelle L. for this story)

" ... Every Kentucky governor for the past 31 years has been investigated by the FBI or a federal grand jury. ... "

By Kakie Urch
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FRANKFORT — The insurance scam. The contracts to friends. The cocaine ring and the gambling debt. The $35,000 piano and extortion. The hot goods and Italian Tax Police. The horse barn fire. The nursing home girlfriend.

Can you match the Kentucky governor to these scandals?

Try Ford, Carroll, Brown, Collins, Wilkinson, Jones and Patton, respectively.

Every Kentucky governor for the past 31 years has been investigated by the FBI or a federal grand jury. None of the seven was ever charged with a crime. But Gov. Wallace Wilkinson's nephew, Bruce Wilkinson, served time for corruption, and Gov. Martha Layne Collins' husband was imprisoned for extortion.

As sex-for-favors allegations swirl around Gov. Paul Patton today, newspaper accounts over the past three decades record a litany of other scandals that have enveloped the Governor's Mansion.

Wendell H. Ford (1971-74)

A federal grand jury recommended that Gov. Ford be indicted in connection with an insurance scheme, but the U.S. Department of Justice did not act on the recommendation.

Mr. Ford went on to the U.S. Senate, where he served for 24 years, rising to minority whip.

Julian M. Carroll (1974-1979)

Gov. Carroll led the state through some of its toughest tragedies, including the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire that killed 165 people. He also was investigated by the FBI for allegedly favoring his friends and supporters with personal service contracts and leases.

One grand jury investigation, on an insurance scam, sent Nashville-based banker Sonny Hunt, a close associate of the governor, to prison.

Just a few days before Mr. Carroll left office, another federal grand jury probe was mounted into his two children's receipt of monthly $500 checks from W.B. “Bill” Terry Sr., a Lexington businessman.

Mr. Carroll had pushed special conflict-of-interest legislation through the General Assembly so he could appoint Mr. Terry to the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees. Mr. Terry's Bluegrass Coca-Cola Bottling Co. had the exclusive soda contract with UK.

John Y. Brown Jr. (1979-83)

Gov. Brown, the owner of Kentucky Fried Chicken who brought his Miss America wife, Phyllis George, to town, was investigated by a federal grand jury about a $1.3 million cash withdrawal from a Miami bank. He testified it was to pay gambling debts. He swore in 1983 never to gamble again.

Mr. Brown, one-time co-owner of Trumps nightclub in Cincinnati, and his partners were included in law enforcement and surveillance reports in connection with “The Company,” a 1970s and 1980s cocaine and gun-smuggling ring that operated out of Lexington.

The Company's criminal activity included the spectacular death of former Lexington police officer Drew Thornton, who jumped out of a plane with $75 million in cocaine and a bad parachute strapped to his back, landing in a Knoxville driveway.

The Company came dangerously close to Mr. Brown's circle of friends and business and political associates. It is the topic of The Bluegrass Conspiracy, Sally Denton's 1990 true-crime classic.

Martha Layne Collins (1983-87)

One of the nation's first six female governors, Ms. Collins chaired the Democratic National Convention one year and was considered for the vice presidential nomination eventually taken up by Geraldine Ferraro of New York.

A former schoolteacher who brought Toyota and its millions in development to Georgetown, Ms. Collins was investigated after leaving office in connection with a $35,000 grand piano paid for by a company that did business with her administration. The piano, emblazoned with the Collins family crest, was presented to her in 1984. Statewide debate raged over another mansion fixture: a tanning bed.

But it was a federal probe into her husband's activities that actually derailed her national political career.

Bill Collins was convicted on charges that he extorted $1.1 million in contributions from state contractors while his wife was governor.

Wallace G. Wilkinson (1987-91)

Gov. Wilkinson was investigated by a federal grand jury and the FBI in connection with overseas business deals, resulting in an audit by the Italian Tax Police.

He also came under scrutiny after large state contracts went to firms that gave money to his wife's failed gubernatorial campaign. A separate investigation was launched on charges that a company he owned conspired to buy stolen textbooks.

Mr. Wilkinson recorded his trials and tribulations in the mansion in his autobiography, You Can't Do That, Governor!

He died July 5, but Kentucky courts still are sorting through a $418 million bankruptcy case involving e-Campus, an online textbook company he created in the Internet startup boom.

Brereton C. Jones (1991-95)

Gov. Jones, owner of Airdrie Stud breeding stable, was investigated by the FBI in connection with a 1990 “Preakness Party.” At least 22 National Guard officers gave more than $36,000 to his campaign and later benefited from promotions and state appointments, investigators alleged.

There also was a state arson investigation at his Woodford County horse farm. A barn, home to well-insured thoroughbreds that were infected with equine herpes and unable to breed, burned to the ground.

Mr. Jones left the state with its largest budget surplus in history.

Paul E. Patton (1995-present)

The coal operater and engineer from Pike County has promoted education, significantly raising the state's national rating and helping bring numerous large companies to Kentucky.

He is named in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Tina Conner, a former mistress who claims he abused his power by sending investigators to her nursing home after she broke off the affair.

The FBI is investigating, and the state Attorney General's office and Ethics Commission have opened probes.

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