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Audit again points to questionable spending in Knott County

For the fourth fiscal year in a row, Knott County's books were in such bad shape that auditors refused to certify the accuracy of its financial statements, according to a report released Thursday.

Auditors said the county spent money in questionable ways; failed to properly document hundreds of thousands in spending; didn't get bids on many purchases; and had a fleet of more than 30 trucks and cars that employees sometimes used for personal travel without being properly charged.

The audit covered the 2007 fiscal year, from July 1, 2006, to June 30, 2007. It is the most recent state review of the county's books; state Auditor Crit Luallen released the document Thursday.

The findings aren't new, however. They are the same problems listed in the county's 2006 audit.

The auditors discovered events outside of the time frame covered by the audit that were so serious they made them public last year, Luallen said in an interview. "It was too serious for us to put off for a year," she said.

Some of the 2006 findings led to an investigation by the FBI and, ultimately, vote-fraud convictions against Judge-Executive Randy Thompson and three other county officials.

The 2006 audit questioned more than $780,000 in spending on roadwork, noting that during the last six months of 2006 — as Thompson ran for a new term — the county spent 583 percent more on road improvements than it had in all of the previous fiscal year.

Thompson was charged with taking part in a scheme to win votes in the 2006 general election by using public funds for work on private driveways and bridges.

Three others were charged with him: John Mac Combs and Phillip Champion, assistants to Thompson, and Ronnie Adams, a former magistrate who had gone to work for the county under Thompson.

The four said they broke no laws, but jurors convicted them.

The audit released Thursday isn't likely to lead to any additional criminal charges.

There were no new findings of improprieties in the audit that weren't cited in the 2006 audit and reported to the FBI and other authorities earlier, Luallen said in an interview.

Thompson and the men charged with him in the vote-fraud case are appealing their convictions.

Unlike his predecessor, who also was convicted in a vote-fraud scheme, Thompson won't have to go to prison while appealing.

U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove sentenced Thompson to 40 months in prison, but ruled last week that Thompson and those convicted with him may remain free while they contest their convictions.

Among other things, the four have argued a prosecutor made inappropriate comments to the jury and that Van Tatenhove shouldn't have allowed jurors to hear certain testimony.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Taylor asked Van Tatenhove to send Thompson and the other county employees to prison during the appeal.

Van Tatenhove said allowing Thompson and the others to remain free avoids the "uncomfortable prospect" that Thompson could keep getting his salary while in prison even though he couldn't effectively do the job.

State law allows public officials convicted of crimes to keep their office and salary while appealing, even if they're in prison.

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