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U.S. Attorney steps down after more than 30 years

His successful 1985 prosecution of a case in which the defendant worked as a money courier for drug dealers in Colombia helped inspire Congress to create the first federal money laundering statute.

He's been a major force in a nationally recognized program in which local, state and federal agencies work together to identify and prosecute marijuana growers in Eastern Kentucky.

Jim Zerhusen has had many more accomplishments of which he's proud.

But now, after more than 30 years in public service, he's decided it's time to lay down his law books and do a little traveling.

Zerhusen, 59, is stepping down as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky on Friday. He's worked in the U.S. Attorney's office in one capacity or another since 1980. The bulk of his work has been in the prosecution of criminal cases. During the past two years he's held the title of acting U.S. Attorney and U.S. Attorney.

In 1983, Zerhusen was the first federal prosecutor in the Eastern District to prosecute a drug case that resulted in the seizure of a defendant's home.

Another notable federal case that Zerhusen prosecuted personally was that of Estill County car dealer Delmus "Bunt" Gross, who was sentenced in 1989 to five years in prison for laundering drug money through his car lot.

Zerhusen said he's seen a lot of changes in the federal justice system over the years. There are a lot more personnel and facilities in the Eastern District now than there were in 1980. The caseload for the district has increased four- or five-fold, and the types of cases have changed too. Cyber crime didn't exist, or was almost non-existent, when he began work as a federal prosecutor. The number of cases involving child pornography wasn't as high.

Zerhusen, who was born in Cincinnati and grew up in Lakeside Park in Kenton County, was a 1971 distinguished military graduate of the University of Dayton. He went on to graduate from the University of Kentucky College of Law. He later was at Fort Riley in Kansas, spending most of his time in the Army as an attorney in the Judge Advocate General's Corps. Then, Ray Larson, who was director of the special prosecutions division of the Kentucky attorney general's office, hired him, and Zerhusen returned to Kentucky, settling in Georgetown.

Zerhusen and Larson worked together, prosecuting cases for state government. Larson, now commonwealth's attorney in Lexington, and Zerhusen have continued working together.

"Through his leadership, the cooperation between federal prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's office and our office, the commonwealth's attorney's office, has been absolutely superb," Larson said. He noted that the two offices have worked together to create task forces on guns and gang violence, financial crimes and to keep children safe.

"He's left his footprint in that office. He's a good friend. I'm sorry to see him go," Larson said.

Federal government benefits that allow a person to retire "when you're still getting around pretty good" are a big factor in Zerhusen's decision to retire now, he said.

One of the first trips he plans to make in retirement is to the NCAA Final Four. The staffers in his office chipped in and bought him tickets to the games as a retirement gift.

"I'm hoping Kentucky will be playing Monday night," said the lifetime UK sports fan.

He also plans to spend more time with his wife, Mary, a retired teacher, and their three grown children, Megan, Coy and Aaron, all of whom are educators.

"I haven't been bitten by golf," he said. "I don't know if I can play tennis anymore."

Kerry Harvey has been appointed by President Barack Obama to fill Zerhusen's post. But the U.S. Senate has not confirmed the nomination. Acting first assistant to the U.S. Attorney, E.J. Walbourn, will fill the position in the meantime.