By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
Former Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Jonathan Gassett and three current and former department employees were charged with multiple violations of the state ethics code Monday by the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.
Gassett, who resigned in September following an investigation by the Inspector General and the Cabinet for Tourism, Arts and Heritage, faces nine ethics charges. Most of the allegations against the other three – John Akers, Kenneth “Scott” King and Benjy Kinman – involve helping Gassett carry out the violations alleged against him, but King is also charged with telling female employees how to dress and asking one to expose her breasts.
Monday’s charges against Gassett involve the use of department facilities, equipment and employees for personal work, including pumping out a flooded crawl space or basement beneath his personal residence and work on personal property items by department employees on department time and premises.
Department employees allegedly picked up building supplies purchased by Gassett at a Lexington business and stored them on department premises for a time before removing them to Gassett’s residence.
Gassett also secured guest passes from the Kentucky State Police to the 2011 and 2012 Kentucky Derby; secured 15 prints created by a department employee for sale at a fundraiser without paying for them; used the department’s Federal Express account to have personal items delivered to his home and an alligator skin shipped to a Georgia taxidermist; stored and worked on personal items at the department’s workshop; and had department employees acquire a controlled pesticide for him and for which he was not certified.
Additionally, Gassett is alleged to have allowed a personal friend and prospective vendor to the department to attend a meeting where upgrading or purchasing communications equipment was discussed.
Gassett did not respond to a voice message left on his cellphone seeking comment and CNHI was unable to reach the other three men.
King is charged with using a department tractor for his personal use and creating “an oppressive and hostile atmosphere in his division to suit his own prurient, personal interests.” He’s alleged to have told female employees to wear short skirts and heels to meetings and “on one occasion told an employee to allow him to see her breasts” in exchange for favorable treatment.
Akers is alleged to have assisted Gassett in storing Gassett’s personal property on department premises; repair or build personal items in the department’s workshop; directed employees to perform personal work for other department employees; and taken possession of antlers seized for destruction by the department and used them to make duck calls, furniture and coat racks.
Kinman was deputy commissioner and for a time was interim commissioner after Gassett’s resignation. He was also charged with directing employees to pump out the basement or crawl space at Gassett’s residence.
Kinman also allegedly had fish from the department’s hatchery delivered to a private pond near Somerset which is owned by a member of the Board of Commissioners. He is also alleged to have stocked a pond owned by a friend of another commissioner in Anderson County.
The Ethics Commission also announced that former Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer agreed to a $63,000 civil penalty to settle the commission’s investigation against him.
The $63,000 penalty was contained in a settlement between Farmer and the Ethics Commission that was announced previously. But the settlement was contingent upon plea agreements Farmer entered into in federal and state courts on criminal charges of misappropriating tax money and falsifying a campaign expense report.
The plea agreements were approved and Farmer has since been sentenced to 27 months in federal prison, freeing the commission to announce the fine.
By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
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