Former Blue Grass Airport executive accepts plea deal

Slone pleads guilty to misdemeanor theft, must testify against others

jhewlett@herald-leader.comMarch 20, 2010 

A former top executive of Lexington's Blue Grass Airport accepted a plea deal Friday that amends his felony theft charge to a misdemeanor and requires him to testify against any other defendants in a case involving spending of airport money.

John P. Slone, 52, of Versailles, who was the airport's director of planning and development, pleaded guilty to an amended charge of conspiracy to commit theft by deception, which carries penalties of up to 12 months in jail and/or a fine of not more than $500. Prosecutors recommended a 12-month jail sentence, but no fine.

Slone was initially indicted on a felony theft by deception charge, which carries a penalty of one to five years in prison and could mean a fine of $1,000 to $10,000 or double the gain from a theft.

Slone, who appeared in Fayette Circuit Court for a hearing Friday, is among four former airport executives facing theft charges stemming from hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses that they billed to the airport. The airport board forced the four men to resign in January 2009.

John Coon, the airport's former director of operations, was expected to enter a guilty plea on Friday, but his attorney, Jim Lowry, was ill. Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine told Coon that the court was going to pass on his guilty plea and scheduled a new hearing for 10 a.m. Wednesday. Coon also was indicted on a felony theft by deception charge and had entered a not guilty plea to the charge. Assistant Commonwealth's attorney Andrea Williams would not comment about the plea deal in Coon's case.

Former airport executive director Michael Gobb was also in Goodwine's court on Friday, but the judge continued his case. Gobb, who has pleaded not guilty to nine counts of felony theft by deception, is scheduled to be in court on April 16.

"We're still working through a couple of legal issues," Patrick Nash, who is Gobb's attorney, told the judge.

John Rhodes, the former airport administration and finance director, also got a docket pass Friday. Rhodes, who has pleaded not guilty to six counts of felony theft by deception, will appear in court on April 9.

If a defendant is convicted of multiple counts of felony theft by deception, a judge decides whether the sentences should be served concurrently or consecutively. There is a 20-year maximum.

The former airport officials have gotten several continuances since they were indicted Oct. 20.

Goodwine wanted to see how the cases of Coon, Gobb and Rhodes progressed so she scheduled Slone's sentencing for May 21.

The judge asked Slone whether he had made statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the state attorney general's office about the cases. Slone said he had.

The four former airport officials were indicted after law enforcement agencies spent more than nine months investigating spending at the airport.

The Herald-Leader reported last year that the top five leaders of the airport, including the four who were indicted, spent more than $530,000 on travel, meals, entertainment and other expenses from 2006 through 2008.

State auditor Crit Luallen's office began an audit of airport spending after the Herald-Leader began publishing a series of articles on th subject. Luallen in February 2009 described the pattern of spending at the airport as "shameful." Her office's audit report detailed more than $500,000 in undocumented and questionable expenses made by seven airport officials, including the four who were later indicted, from Jan. 1, 2006, through Dec. 31, 2008. A criminal investigation into the matter began before the audit was completed.

The charges against Slone and Coon arose from a 2004 visit to a Texas strip club that the two made with Gobb. The trio charged $5,080 on airport credit cards during the trip.

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