Four former Clay County officials who pleaded guilty in a wide-ranging federal election-fraud case were sentenced to the time they've already spent in prison during a hearing Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Lexington.
Three of the defendants will be placed on home incarceration for 100 days, and all four will be on supervised release for two years and must complete 200 hours of public service, U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell ruled.
The four are former Circuit Judge R. Cletus Maricle; former school superintendent Doug Adams; former county clerk Freddy W. Thompson, and William Stivers, a former county election officer.
The judge excoriated all four men in comments from the bench, describing their actions as "nothing short of despicable."
Caldwell said they had abused their trust as public officials in a coordinated attempt to corrupt the democratic electoral process in Clay County.
All four men came from good families, held respected positions in the community and wielded power in Clay County, she said.
"I don't know how much worse it can get," Caldwell said.
Maricle, Adams and Stivers will go on immediate home incarceration for 100 days, under Caldwell's order.
None of the men will have to serve any more time in prison. The four already had served more than three years behind bars before a federal appeals court overturned their trial convictions last year. They later pleaded guilty.
Under federal guidelines, Maricle could have been sentenced to seven years and three months in jail; Adams six years and three months; Stivers six years; and Thompson five years and six months. Those terms would have included credit for time they'd already served.
Tuesday's sentencing climaxed FBI investigations that spanned years and ripped holes into Clay County's political establishment.
More than a dozen one-time officials and election officers, representing both political parties, ultimately pleaded guilty or were convicted of corruption, drug or vote-buying charges. Other prominent people were listed as unindicted co-conspirators.
The four former officials sentenced Tuesday were convicted with four other people who are scheduled to be sentenced later this month: former Magistrate Stanley Bowling; Charles Wayne Jones, who was a Democrat election commissioner; and Bart and Debra Morris, who operated a garbage-hauling business that had contracts with Manchester and Clay County
The eight were charged with conspiring to use the county election board as a tool to corrupt elections in 2002, 2004 and 2006 so they could hold on to power and enrich themselves and associates through jobs and contracts.
Participants in the scheme pooled hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy votes in one of the poorest counties in the nation.
In July, the 6th Circuit U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out their convictions, citing errors during the trial.
All eight later pleaded guilty to racketeering under deals that provided for lower sentences than they received after the trial. For example, Maricle, 70, originally was sentenced to 26 years and eight months. Adams, 62, originally was sentenced to 24 years and five months.
During Tuesday's hearing, Caldwell invited all four men to comment on their own behalf. Only Adams and Miracle did so.
"I am not making any excuses. I am sorry," Adams said.
Miracle said he hoped for "a new beginning," promising that "what has been in the past will not be in the future."
Defense attorneys for the four urged Caldwell to be lenient and sentence their clients to time served, pointing out that the case had broken them financially and that other Eastern Kentucky officials convicted of buying votes had been sentenced to less prison time.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Parman urged the court to take a stronger sentencing stance, arguing that the four tried to take away the voting rights of Clay County's residents. Their actions went beyond simple vote-buying, he asserted.
"If we don't stand for democracy," Parman said, "everything else this court does is pretty much meaningless."