Blue grass airport's runaway expenses

Former airport official is sentenced

Rhodes sentenced to 21/2 years but is discharged

jhewlett@herald-leader.comJune 12, 2010 

John S. Rhodes, former administration and finance director of Lexington's Blue Grass Airport, will serve no jail time for a felony conviction of theft by deception unless he violates the terms of a five-year conditional discharge.

On Friday, Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine sentenced Rhodes, 56, to 21/2 years in prison, however she conditionally discharged Rhodes for five years. If he gets into trouble with the law in the next five years, he could have to serve out the sentence. Goodwine said that Rhodes does not need the supervision that comes with probation.

The judge's decision went against a recommendation by the Fayette Commonwealth's Attorney's office that Rhodes serve five years in jail.

Rhodes, in a plea deal, pleaded guilty to one count of felony theft by deception in April. Prosecutors asked that five other counts of felony theft by deception be dismissed.

The charge to which Rhodes pleaded guilty involves his using an airport credit card issued in his name to buy items and/or services for personal use between Jan. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2008.

"You don't see this happen in circuit court very often," Rhodes' attorney, Grover Carrington, said of Friday's sentencing. Carrington said that if anyone deserves a conditional discharge, it is Rhodes.

Rhodes is one of four former top officials of the airport who were indicted in October on felony charges of theft by deception after law enforcement agencies investigated spending at the airport for more than nine months. The four stepped down from their airport jobs in early 2009.

In February 2009, state auditor Crit Luallen issued a report on her office's audit of airport spending. The report detailed more than $500,000 in undocumented and questionable expenses made by seven airport officials — including the four charged — from Jan. 1, 2006, through Dec. 31, 2008.

Goodwine said she had considered Rhodes' case seriously. She said Rhodes had lost and learned a lot. The judge said Rhodes lost the thing he was passionate about: his job in aviation.

"He had a job that he loved as director of finance for the Blue Grass Airport," the judge said. She said that Rhodes wanted his legacy to be his contributions to the airport, but now his legacy involves a scandal.

Goodwine said she thought Rhodes had become content with the atmosphere at the airport before his legal troubles began.

The judge said she received a "heartfelt" letter from Rhodes in which he apologized and expressed remorse, and letters in support of Rhodes from family and friends. Rhodes has been "totally humiliated" and "totally embarrassed" by his legal situation, she said.

She said that Rhodes had made full restitution to the airport.

The judge said she could not imagine the agony that Rhodes went through in determining what to do when plea-bargaining with prosecutors.

Goodwine also said that Rhodes was a deacon and Sunday School teacher at his church. The judge, noting that she, like Rhodes, is a Christian, told Rhodes she knew that the God they both serve is a "God of second chances."

Goodwine said that Rhodes has gotten a full-time job since he left the airport (He's a salesman for Mann Chrysler Dodge Jeep in Mount Sterling) and has strong family support and a strong network of friends.

After telling Rhodes that he would have to pay $155 in court costs, Goodwine said she hoped the conclusion of the court case would somehow allow him to get on with his life.

Prosecutors have never spelled out the details of the initial charges against Rhodes, including the amount of money involved. Airport attorney Thomas Halbleib has indicated that the more than $21,000 that Rhodes had reimbursed the airport as of early August 2009 represented the total amount involved in the criminal charges.

In April, former airport planning and development director John P. Slone and former airport operations director John G. Coon accepted plea deals and pleaded guilty to one charge each of conspiracy to commit theft by deception, a misdemeanor. The charges against Slone and Coon were related to a trip that they and former airport executive director Michael Gobb made to a Texas strip club in 2004, when they charged $5,080 on airport credit cards, according to authorities.

Prosecutors recommended that Coon and Slone each receive 12-month jail sentences. The two are awaiting sentencing. As part of their plea deals, the two are required to testify at any trials involving other defendants in the case.

Gobb, who has pleaded not guilty to nine counts of felony theft by deception, is scheduled to be back in court on June 18.

Coon and Slone have repaid the airport for their part of the Texas strip club visit cost, according to Halbleib. Gobb has repaid the airport several thousand dollars for expenditures he made and has repaid $10,000 that the airport paid to an Arizona facility that treats people for a variety of things, including substance abuse and post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Reach Jennifer Hewlett at (859) 231-3308 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3308.

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