CARLISLE — A jury must decide whether Nicholas County Sheriff Leonard "Dick" Garrett used money from a drug-asset forfeiture account to benefit himself or the people he was sworn to protect.
Both options were put before jurors seated Thursday as attorneys for the prosecution and defense gave opening statements. No testimony will be heard until Monday, when the trial is scheduled to resume.
As both sides gave their statements to the eight women and six men on the jury, Garrett, 48, sat quietly in his gray uniform at the defense table.
At issue is the drug asset-forfeiture account, which contained $95,631.41 that Garrett received from the federal government for his share of the work in bringing a local drug dealer to justice. The dealer, Gary Lee Barnett, was convicted in federal court in Lexington in 2007, said special prosecutor Kathryn Hendrickson.
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An indictment returned in October alleges that Garrett took $43,291.45 from the forfeiture account. Another count of abuse of public trust alleges that Garrett spent more than $10,000 for his personal use.
The money in the account was to be used to buy vehicles and equipment and for "specialized training expenses," Hendrickson said, citing examples from documents projected onto a large screen behind her.
But Garrett "used the asset forfeiture money like it was his own personal checking account," Hendrickson said.
For example, she said, Garrett used more than $900 to pay his homeowner's insurance and nearly $600 to pay for Coca-Cola products. Thousands more, she said, were used to pay personal loans for former Deputy Sheriff Benjamin Buckler Sr., who became a Carlisle police officer before he was indicted earlier this year on similar charges. Buckler will be tried separately.
About $6,000 was spent to make drug buys as part of investigations, but there was documentation only for a $180 buy, Hendrickson said. There were no case reports and no prosecutions resulting from those buys, she said.
For those who would say "this was drug money," Hendrickson countered: "This was federal money, public money. Your money. Money to be used for the benefit of the citizens of Nicholas County."
Defense attorney Raymond Bogucki of Mount Olivet said in his opening statement, however, that "the rest of the story" was that Garrett used the money for public benefit.
"His job is to serve you, and that's what he does," Bogucki told the jurors.
Garrett bought squad cars — "cars, plural," Bogucki said — out of his own pocket. Initially, the vehicles were in his name, but Garrett later put them in the county's name, Bogucki said.
Bogucki said Garrett acknowledged paying nearly $600 for Coca-Cola products for a tractor pull that was to have benefited the Kentucky Sheriffs' Association Boys and Girls Ranch. As it turned out, two days of rain put a damper on the pull, he said.
"None of this stuff comes with any clear and cohesive rules," said Bogucki, who likened the paperwork to receive forfeiture money as "very typical government forms, government booklets."
Bogucki said he and Hendrickson will go "line by line" through each item of the drug asset-forfeiture account. Garrett's handling of the account was criticized by the state auditor's office and was later referred to the Kentucky State Police for investigation.
"I think our proof will show that he was cooperative" with the state police in their investigation of the account's expenditures, Bogucki said. "I think you will determine that an adequate explanation has been given to you" for an acquittal on the theft and abuse of public trust charges.
The trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Monday at the Nicholas County Courthouse in Carlisle.