Bourbon County

Stolen marriage licenses lead to charges for Lexington man

NICHOLASVILLE — Police arrested a Lexington man Wednesday in the theft of marriage certificates from county clerks' offices.

William Bush Jr., 50, was arrested in Jessamine County and charged with 93 counts of tampering with public records, a felony, Chief Deputy Allen Peel said. He was being paid by a mortgage-insurance company for entering data from the publicly available documents. There was one criminal charge for each page, but a later count found there to be 105 recovered documents from Jessamine, Peel said.

In all, police retrieved 1,072 documents from six counties, so additional charges are likely.

Peel said the Jessamine sheriff's office is notifying officials in Bourbon, Fayette, Madison, Scott and Woodford counties about Bush's arrest.

Meanwhile, Bush told police that he was a substitute teacher for the Fayette County Public Schools.

Schools spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall confirmed that the district briefly had a sub by that name.

Deffendall said the district received a tip Tuesday that Bush had falsified his employment records, and he was immediately removed from the substitute list as the district began an investigation.

County clerks who had reported missing marriage certificates in August were relieved to hear that they had been recovered.

"It's wonderful. I am so thankful," said Bourbon County Clerk Richard Stipp Eads.

"I was afraid he had destroyed them," said Woodford County Clerk Judie Woolums.

Peel and Jessamine Sheriff's Detective John Bourne were still counting documents Wednesday afternoon at the sheriff's office.

In addition to the 105 documents from Jessamine, police retrieved 267 from Bourbon, 146 from Fayette, 166 from Madison, 221 from Scott and 167 from Woodford. (Eads, the Bourbon clerk, said he has counted 256 missing records, not 267.)

The documents were retrieved from Bush's daughter's home and his mother's home, both in Lexington, Peel said.

County clerks in Central Kentucky began noticing missing marriage certificates in mid-August.

The Kentucky County Clerks Association notified all 120 clerks about the matter shortly thereafter.

Property records, mortgages, liens, fiscal court orders and other documents are all available for the public to see in the offices of county clerks.

Bush told police he was a contract worker for Pro Data Research of Burlington, N.C., and that he gathered information from public documents for the company.

"This online company was paying him 40 cents per marriage license to enter information," Bourne said.

"I guess he didn't want to pay for the copies," Peel said.

Clerks charge different amounts per page, but it typically ranges from 25 to 50 cents.

Woolums had said in August it is not uncommon for researchers to collect information from marriage records to send newlyweds information about home mortgages, but records had not previously been stolen.

An employee for Pro Data Research, which sells mortgage insurance, had no comment Wednesday.

The company's Web site tells prospective researchers: "You'll work your own hours, pay nothing up front and enjoy the security of knowing we won't stop needing your data as long as people enjoy the American dream of home ownership."

Marriage licenses are issued in the county clerk's office of each county. The bride and groom must appear together, and the license is valid for 30 days from the date it is issued. The license must be used in Kentucky.

The license does not have Social Security numbers, but it includes the name and address of the bride and groom; their date of birth and age; their place of birth; father's name; mother's first and maiden name; whether they are single, divorced or had a marriage annulled, or widowed; the number of previous marriages of bride and groom; the occupations of the bride and groom; and the race of the bride and groom.

Tampering with public records is a class D felony punishable by one to five years in prison.

Bush was taken to the Jessamine County jail. As of Wednesday afternoon, a bond had not been set, and a court date for first appearance had not been scheduled.