CARLISLE — In a trial that is likely to be watched closely by local residents, Nicholas County Sheriff Leonard "Dick" Garrett is scheduled to be tried this week on felony charges of theft and abuse of public trust.
If convicted of the latter charge, Garrett, 48, could forfeit office and go to prison for five to 10 years. He is free on bond but has remained sheriff since he was indicted in October.
The trial is scheduled to start Wednesday before Special Judge William Mains, and it could last for a week or more. In March, Mains denied a motion by the prosecution to move the trial outside of Nicholas County.
Special Prosecutor Kathryn Hendrickson, the commonwealth's attorney for Mason, Bracken and Fleming counties, had filed a motion seeking a change of venue because the prosecution thought it could not get a fair trial in Nicholas County, where Garrett has been a popular figure. He has been sheriff since 2003 and had no opponents in the November 2010 general election.
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An indictment returned in October alleges that Garrett took $43,291.45 from a drug-arrest forfeiture account. The abuse of public trust count alleges that Garrett obtained $95,000 in federal account forfeiture funds and spent more than $10,000 for his personal use.
Asked recently whether he intends to testify, Garrett said "I don't know yet." He declined to comment further.
Garrett was to be tried with Benjamin Buckler Sr., a former deputy sheriff. Buckler, 38, was indicted in April on charges that he received more than $300 in stolen federal asset forfeiture money taken from the sheriff's department, and that he took or was complicit in taking more than $300 from the department's drug-asset forfeiture account.
But on July 12, Mains ruled that Buckler, who is now a Carlisle police officer, should have a separate trial.
The indictments for Garrett and Buckler appear to stem from a June 2007 raid the two made on the southern Nicholas County home of suspected drug dealer Gary Lee Barnett. They found hundreds of pills, including methadone and oxycodone, and Barnett had $42,338 in cash, according to court records. Barnett was charged with trafficking in controlled substances and being a convicted felon in possession of firearms. A later search by federal authorities found hundreds more pills.
(Barnett's case was moved to federal court in Lexington, where he pleaded guilty in 2007 to two drug-related counts and was sentenced to 121 months in prison. He appealed on grounds that the government broke a plea agreement, but the sentence was affirmed by the Sixth District Court of Appeals.)
In any case, Garrett came under criticism from State Auditor Crit Luallen in an audit released in 2010 of the sheriff's 2008 financial statement. The audit found that Garrett had $40,401 in disallowed expenditures from his drug forfeiture account.
The account is financed by proceeds from the confiscation or sale of real and personal property involved in drug-related convictions. That money can then be used to buy law-enforcement equipment.
The disallowed expenditures cited in the audit included $15,456 in checks written to cash and cash transfers that lacked any supporting documentation; $16,037 for payment to a car dealership with no supporting documentation and that was not registered in the county's name; $1,264 for exercise equipment and other personal items; $4,484 written to the bank having no documentation; and $3,160 in other items that had no support or were for unnecessary items.
Under state law, drug money forfeited to the sheriff's office is to be used for "direct law enforcement purposes." The audit recommended that Garrett reimburse the drug account with $40,401 for these disallowed expenditures. The matter also was referred to the Kentucky State Police, who investigated the sheriff's office. Court records indicate that Garrett cooperated with the investigation.
Garrett told an investigator that he gave Buckler $4,000 to $5,000 in loans that were never repaid, and that Buckler knew that the money came from the drug forfeiture asset account, according to court records in Buckler's case file. Buckler disputes Garrett's statement, the court records said.
Garrett also told the investigator that $3,000 of the money he took from the forfeiture asset account was to pay off a personal loan for Buckler. Buckler disputes that, too, court records said.
In addition, Garrett told the investigator that he gave Buckler some of the money to repay him out of pocket for drug buys during investigations. Buckler also contests this, the court records said.
Finally, Garrett told the investigator that he gave Buckler money to pay off an account at Bud's Gun Shop in Lexington, but it was never paid. Buckler also contests that, court records said.
One reason that Garrett and Buckler will not be tried together is that their accounts of what happened were antagonistic to one another.
Jury selection could take awhile because a pool of 100 potential jurors will be questioned individually about what they've heard about the case and whether they have any political connections to Garrett.