FRANKFORT - Attorney General Greg Stumbo might refer to federal prosecutors information uncovered during a special grand jury's investigation of hiring practices in Gov. Ernie Fletcher's administration, his office acknowledged yesterday.
Prosecutors in Stumbo's office are actively reviewing their files and "organizing the evidence with an eye toward a possible federal referral," said Deputy Attorney General Pierce Whites.
A final decision about whether to refer the case to the U.S. Department of Justice will probably be made within 90 days, Whites said.
The attorney general's office has looked at "public corruption" cases in other states and found several "similar to this one that have been prosecuted by federal authorities," he said.
Jodi Whitaker, Fletcher's press secretary, said yesterday that the governor's office would have no comment on the matter.
The case's possible migration to a federal venue comes less than two weeks after the special Franklin County grand jury issued its final report and disbanded.
In its report, the grand jury alleged that Fletcher approved "a widespread and coordinated plan to violate merit hiring laws" that protect rank-and-file workers from job discrimination because of politics.
Fletcher has said the grand jury report's allegations do not mesh with an August settlement between Fletcher and Stumbo that dismissed three misdemeanor charges against the governor. In the settlement, Stumbo acknowledged that Fletcher's administration acted "without malice."
The report alleged that "entire cabinets and departments were tasked with carrying out various parts" of an "illegal plan" to replace rank-and-file workers with Fletcher supporters and attack a state law that forbids job discrimination because of politics.
Whites said any referral of the case would probably be made to Department of Justice officials in Washington and to U.S. Attorney L. Anna Forbes of Charleston W.Va., who was appointed to answer previous questions regarding the 18-month investigation after U.S. Attorney Amul Thapar of the Eastern District of Kentucky recused himself from the case because he was a social acquaintance of a witness.
Stumbo previously floated the idea of shifting the case to federal court on fraud, corruption or political discrimination charges after Fletcher pardoned everyone who might be indicted by the grand jury except himself.
Officials in Stumbo's office acknowledged yesterday that he was considering a federal referral when it denied a request by the Herald-Leader to receive copies of all documents related to the hiring investigation. The grand jury's investigative files will remain secret until the case is closed.
An investigation of state hiring practices is also ongoing at the Kentucky Personnel Board, which is only now beginning to investigate a voluminous complaint filed in May 2005 that triggered the grand jury's inquiry.