Blue Grass Airport's runaway expenses

No jail time for 2 more ex-executives

Although their sentences are 12 months, Judge lets them go with no probation

jhewlett@herald-leader.comJune 26, 2010 

John Slone

Two former top executives of Lexington's Blue Grass Airport will avoid jail time for theft charges stemming from thousands of dollars in expenses that were billed to the airport.

John G. Coon, the former director of operations, and John P. Slone, who was director of planning and development, stood before Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine on Friday morning to receive their sentences.

The judge sentenced Coon and Slone to 12 months in jail, but she conditionally discharged them for two years. So if they get into trouble with the law during the next two years, they might have to serve out their sentences.

Coon, 48, and Slone, 52, initially were charged with one count each of felony theft by deception, 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.

They each accepted a plea deal in March that amended the felony theft charge to a misdemeanor charge of conspiracy to commit theft by deception, which carries maximum penalties of 12 months in jail and a $500 fine. Prosecutors had recommended a 12-month jail sentence but no fine.

Goodwine, in granting conditional discharges to Slone and Coon, said they did not need the supervision that comes with probation. She told the men they were each responsible for paying $155 in court costs.

Coon and Slone can apply to have the misdemeanor charges expunged after five years, Goodwine said.

During the sentencings, Goodwine said she received numerous letters of support from former airport board members, and friends and family of Coon and Slone. Goodwine told Slone, who was sentenced first, that she did not get any letters from victims.

"That says something, as well," she said.

The judge received at least three letters from former airport board members on Slone's behalf, including letters from former airport board chairmen Ray Garman and Jon Zachem and a letter from former board member Robert Dawson. Dawson's term on the board ended Jan. 1, 2009, not long after the Herald-Leader began running a series of articles about airport spending and the state auditor's office decided to conduct an audit of the airport. Dawson indicated to Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry's office that he didn't want to serve another term on the board.

On Friday, Goodwine noted that Coon and Slone have paid restitution.

Both Coon and Slone stood before the judge and apologized.

"I can assure you I've learned some very valuable lessons," said Slone, who is now an aviation project director at RW Armstrong.

Slone's attorney, Bill Moore, said the judge and prosecutors treated Slone fairly.

"I think it's what it should be," Moore said of the sentence his client received.

Coon expressed his sorrow to the court and the public and others.

Coon, Slone, former airport administration and finance director John Rhodes and former airport executive director Michael Gobb were indicted by a grand jury in October 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.

A February 2009 report by State Auditor Crit Luallen's office detailed more than $500,000 in undocumented or questionable expenses made by seven top airport officials, including the four who were indicted, from Jan. 1, 2006, through Dec. 31, 2008.

The airport board forced Gobb, Rhodes, Coon and Slone to resign in January 2009.

The charges against Slone and Coon relate to a 2004 trip they and Gobb took to a Dallas strip club. The airport paid more than $5,000 for the strip-club visit. Slone repaid the airport nearly $2,300, and Coon repaid more than $1,100 for the visit, according to the airport. Slone and Coon repaid the airport before they were indicted, according to the airport's attorney.

Slone and Coon were asked by Gobb to go to the Texas strip club, according to reports from presentencing investigators, Goodwine said after Friday's sentencings.

"I don't know if it was a request or a command," the judge said.

She said that according to the report, Gobb asked Coon and Slone to put strip-club charges on their airport credit cards.

Slone told investigators that he questioned Gobb's request during and after the strip-club visit and was told to list the charges under "marketing" in airport records, Goodwine said.

Rhodes, 56, accepted a plea deal and pleaded guilty to one count of felony theft by deception. Five other felony theft by deception charges against him were dropped. On June 11, Goodwine sentenced Rhodes to 21/2 years in prison but conditionally discharged him for five years. Prosecutors had recommended that Rhodes serve five years in prison.

Fayette Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson said Friday that given Goodwine's decision to reduce his office's sentencing recommendations in Rhodes' case, the sentences that Coon and Slone received should come as no surprise.

"Those weren't our recommendations," he said of the sentences received by the three former airport officials.

Gobb pleaded guilty last week to two counts of felony theft by deception.

As part of a plea deal, prosecutors recommended that Gobb, 47, be sentenced to five years in prison for each of the two charges and that seven additional felony charges of theft by deception be dropped.

Gobb is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 13.

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

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