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Former Mercer clerk is sentenced

Former Mercer County Clerk Ronnie Compton was sentenced Tuesday to a five-year diversion program in which he agreed to pay $10,240 in restitution.

Compton, 45, had been charged with theft by failure to make required disposition of property. He entered an Alford plea in September.

Under an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges that there's evidence for possible conviction.

"He's never admitted his guilt to this. He's always maintained his innocence," said defense attorney Shannon Sexton of Covington.

An indictment in June alleged that Compton had dealt with money in the clerk's office as his own. But Sexton said, "No one ever saw him with a dime in his pocket. ... I believe wholeheartedly that if we had a jury looking for a doubt, we could have had it for them."

Special Prosecutor Tim Cocanougher, the commonwealth's attorney for Washington and Taylor counties, said that, although it is true that no one saw Compton with the money, the evidence was that money that should have been deposited in the bank wasn't.

"Are there witnesses that say he took the money? No, there's not," Cocanougher said. "It was very circumstantial, from that standpoint.

"From my memory, he did admit that he was the main person in charge of making the deposits."

Cocanougher added: "We obviously knew that there would be some issues in proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Had we not, we wouldn't have allowed him to do an Alford plea."

Compton, who has no prior record and who now works for a car dealer, has five years to make restitution.

Compton had no comment after Tuesday's sentencing before Mercer Circuit Court Judge Darren Peckler.

If Compton fails to repay the money or gets into trouble, he faces a one-year prison sentence. But if he meets the terms of the diversion, there is no permanent record and he would not be a convicted felon.

In November 2006, Compton, a Republican, was defeated in a bid for re-election by Democrat Chris Horn.

The Kentucky attorney general and state police began investigating Compton in late 2007 after an audit found a $21,735 deficit in the clerk's 2006 fee account. The audit attributed the deficit to $10,240 in undeposited receipts and $11,495 in "disallowed expenditures."

State Auditor Crit Luallen referred the audit to law enforcement.

Compton, in a reply to the audit, said he strongly disagreed with it, and that he had used the same procedures practiced by the previous clerk.

Sexton said Compton had paid back more than $10,000 even before he was indicted in June.