FRANKFORT — The former Clay County school superintendent should serve more than 24 years in prison for helping lead a racketeering conspiracy that bought votes in an attempt to control the county, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves sentenced Douglas C. Adams, 59, in federal court in Frankfort to 24 years and five months in prison.
Reeves also sentenced former county Clerk Freddy W. Thompson, 47, to 12½ years in prison for his role in the conspiracy.
Reeves said Adams and Thompson took part in an illegal enterprise that bought thousands of votes over several years.
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Too many people were willing to sell their vote or turn a blind eye to such activity, the judge said. "This type of activity corrupts an entire county," Reeves said.
Adams, Thompson and six other county residents were convicted last March of using the county election board as a vehicle to corrupt elections in 2002, '04 and '06.
The goal of the conspiracy was to control the county and enrich themselves and associates through jobs and contracts — a goal the conspirators pursued through widespread buying and stealing of votes, prosecutors argued.
The main charge against them was racketeering, or taking part in organized crime. All eight were convicted of at least one other charge; most were convicted of several.
The jury decided the eight should be liable for a judgment of more than $3 million for the salaries and contracts they received during the conspiracy.
Others convicted in the case are R. Cletus Maricle, circuit judge during the conspiracy; Stanley Bowling, who was a magistrate; Charles Wayne Jones, the county's Democratic election commissioner; William E. Stivers, a precinct worker; Bart Morris, who owned a garbage company that got local contracts; and his wife Debra Morris.
All eight are expected to appeal.
Adams' attorney, Kristin N. Logan, asked Reeves to give the former schools chief less time in prison than the range of 19 years and seven months to 24 years and five months called for under advisory guidelines.
Logan said Adams was motivated in the 2002 election by a desire to get rid of county Clerk Jennings B. White because Adams' daughter, Malanda, had a serious drug problem, and White and other elected officials in the county were protecting drug dealers. Adams wanted to protect his daughter and others, Logan said.
The 2002 primary, in which Thompson beat White, was a chaotic affair marred by gunfire and jostling at the polls as people lined up to sell votes.
Logan also said local schools improved markedly during Adams' time as superintendent from 1999 to 2009.
"He's done a lot for that county," Logan said.
But the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen C. Smith, said Adams abused his position as leader of the largest employer in the county to further his power, soliciting and distributing money for vote-buying, identifying corrupt election officers and backing candidates he could control.
Instead of working for the children, Smith said of Adams, "He's involved in orchestrating a takeover of the power structure in Clay County."
Smith also pointed to testimony that Adams began buying votes in the 1980s and continued to be involved in the conspiracy after the defeat of Jennings White.
The judge acknowledged Adams had provided benefits to the county and his illegal conduct might have been motivated by a desire to get rid of White, who pleaded guilty after leaving office to laundering money for a drug dealer.
But Reeves said it was apparent Adams also wanted to gain and hold power.
Reeves said he considered a longer sentence for Adams but was persuaded by arguments on his behalf to impose the 293-month sentence.
For Thompson, the potential sentence under advisory guidelines was a range of 21 years and 10 months to 27 years and three months.
His attorney, Russ Baldani of Lexington, sought a lower sentence, saying Thompson was less culpable in the racketeering conspiracy than several others in the case.
Unlike with some other defendants, there was no evidence Thompson took part in illegal acts before the 2002 primary, and he improved the clerk's office after beating White, Baldani said.
However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Parman pointed to testimony that Thompson put in more than $100,000 to buy votes in 2002, and in 2006 showed two precinct workers how to change peoples' choices on voting machines to steal votes.
Thompson also lied to a grand jury, Parman said.
The judge said Thompson's role in the conspiracy was significant but not as great as some others.
Reeves also said he did not doubt that Jones, Thompson's father-in-law, brought him into the conspiracy. On Tuesday, Reeves sentenced Jones to 20 years in prison and Stivers to more than 24 years.
Inmates must serve at least 85 percent of their sentences in the federal system.
Maricle and Bowling will be sentenced Thursday, and the Morrises will go before the judge on Friday.