FRANKFORT — Former Lt. Gov. Steve Henry accepted a plea deal Tuesday for three misdemeanors related to misusing campaign resources during his failed 2007 run in the Democratic primary for governor.
Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate sentenced Henry, 56, to a $500 fine and $156 in court costs, plus 12 months in jail, with the jail time suspended on the condition that Henry avoid further criminal problems for two years.
Henry entered an Alford plea, which means he did not admit guilt but did acknowledge that prosecutors could have convicted him on the evidence they had.
But moments after the plea hearing, Henry told reporters that he was the victim of "a political witch-hunt" pushed by his opponents. While his 2007 campaign did accidentally mix up money and other resources between his gubernatorial bid and a U.S. Senate race he was pondering, there were no knowing violations, Henry said.
Never miss a local story.
"We did make a mistake," Henry said. "There's no question we're not perfect."
In court documents, prosecutors alleged that in 2006 and 2007, Henry improperly used money from a nascent U.S. Senate campaign, which, being a federal race, should not have been spent on the costs of seeking state office. He also improperly used funds from two non-profit charities affiliated with him and his wife, former Miss America Heather Renee French Henry, prosecutors said.
The two charities — the Kentucky Prostate Cancer Coalition and the Heather Renee French Foundation for Veterans — paid several hundred dollars for a gubernatorial campaign aide and stamps for the campaign and covered the costs of Henry's personal cell phone used during the campaign.
Among Henry's other alleged violations, prosecutors said, he improperly accepted corporate contributions for his gubernatorial campaign and took money other than through a duly appointed campaign manager, treasurer or registered committee.
As part of the plea deal, prosecutors agreed to reduce the charges, which were Class D felonies, to misdemeanors by reclassifying them as "attempts."
The case started in 2007 with a complaint filed against Henry at the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. The complainant, Leslie Holland, said Henry hired her to run his campaign for governor three months before he turned in his official candidacy paperwork to the registry. Holland also urged the registry to investigate Henry's use of an off-the-books federal campaign account to lay the groundwork for his gubernatorial run.
Then-Attorney General Greg Stumbo appointed a special prosecutor to investigate. Stumbo recused himself because he also was running in the 2007 Democratic gubernatorial primary.
Three months ago, Henry agreed to pay a $10,000 fine to settle the original civil case with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.
Henry, an orthopedic surgeon from Louisville, was elected twice with Gov. Paul Patton, in 1995 and 1999.
Despite several attempts, Henry has been unable to win other elected offices. He ran for governor briefly in 2003 before dropping out and tried again in 2007, placing third in the Democratic primary. He unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 1998 and publicly considered Senate runs in 2004 and 2008 but did not pursue them.
Complicating his political ambitions, Henry has been dogged for years by questions about his use of public funds.
In 2003, while he was lieutenant governor, Henry agreed to pay $162,000 to settle a federal lawsuit alleging he defrauded the Medicaid and Medicare programs. Prosecutors alleged 44 instances in which Henry had approved billing claims for his services despite not being in the operating room at the University of Louisville Medical School.
After Henry's 2000 marriage to French, the state auditor found that 25 state employees used 500 hours of their personal leave, valued at $16,000, to work on the wedding. The Henrys agreed to reimburse the state $3,200 for wedding expenses and $4,300 for trips that Henry took to the Democratic National Convention and the Miss America Pageant.
Henry said Tuesday that he sees no more elections in his future.
"My wife has told me that we're not available for politics," he told reporters.