Even after sentencings, attorney general's file on airport case is 'pending'

Conway's office not ready to release file

jhewlett@herald-leader.comAugust 26, 2010 

Four former airport officials have been sentenced for their role in a spending scandal at Lexington's Blue Grass Airport, but the office of Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway has yet to close its investigative file on the matter.

The Herald-Leader sought a copy of the file through an open-records request, but the request was denied because the file is still open, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Tad Thomas said in a letter dated Aug. 18. Thomas said in his letter that the file is exempt from disclosure because it contains "preliminary drafts of preliminary recommendations and preliminary memoranda" and "records of law enforcement in a pending matter."

Attorney Jon Fleischaker of Louisville, an expert on the First Amendment and the state's open-records law, said the file, or at least portions of it, should be made available to the public because the criminal case has ended.

"The fact that a file hasn't been closed is irrelevant. The investigation is over," he said. "The law deals with reality, not bureaucratic paper-shuffling."

Allison Gardner Martin, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, issued this statement:

"It is the policy of this office not to comment about an investigation that is not yet closed.

"However, generally speaking, there are various factors involved regarding the closing of investigatory files after convictions or guilty pleas and sentencing.

"These include whether evidence has been returned, whether the defendants have completed any period of probation or parole, whether transcriptions of interviews have been completed, and whether reports have been redacted to delete references to confidential informants."

Former Blue Grass Airport executive director Michael Gobb was sentenced Aug. 13. He was the last of the four to be sentenced on theft-related charges in the airport case.

Fleischaker said that because Gobb and former airport directors John Rhodes, John Slone and John Coon accepted plea deals, there won't be any appeals.

"It's a settlement. There was no trial. It was a deal," he said. "Who's going to appeal, because they all agreed to it?"

But Martin said that before an investigative file is made public, everyone mentioned in the file has to be notified and given the opportunity to review it and make objections to releasing information contained in it, possibly in court.

Fleischaker said that if the attorney general's office feels the need to notify people mentioned in the airport-spending case file before releasing the file, 30 days should be more than adequate time to notify them and get their responses. In the meantime, the rest of the file should not be withheld, he said.

Gobb, Rhodes, Coon and Slone were indicted in October on felony charges of theft by deception after an investigation by law enforcement agencies, including the state attorney general's office and the FBI.

The criminal investigation and an audit by state Auditor Crit Luallen's office started after the Herald-Leader began running articles outlining hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by airport officials on things such as travel, meals and entertainment.

The auditor's office, in a report of its findings, 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.

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

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