Fayette County

Special prosecutor investigating campaign finance issues in Lexington council race

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The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council considered a developer's proposal to move city hall to the offices of the Lexington Herald-Leader in 2018. CRM Companies had proposed gutting and expanding the building.
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The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council considered a developer's proposal to move city hall to the offices of the Lexington Herald-Leader in 2018. CRM Companies had proposed gutting and expanding the building.

State prosecutors are investigating possible state campaign finance violations mentioned in a federal indictment last week of an executive of Lexington-based CRM Companies, according to documents released this week.

Attorney General Andy Beshear appointed Jefferson County Commonwealth Attorney Thomas Wine to look into “CRM Companies” more than three months ago, according to a letter sent to Wine on March 15.

The Lexington Herald-Leader obtained the letter through an Open Records Act request.

Jeff Cooke, an assistant commonwealth attorney and communications director for Wine, said the office has been asked to look into potential campaign finance violations.

“We are currently in the process of reviewing the material that we have received and continue to receive,” Cooke said. Cooke said the office could not comment further on the status of the investigation.

Timothy Wayne Wellman, an executive with CRM Companies, was indicted June 6 on federal charges related to allegedly lying to federal investigators and instructing others to lie about contributions to Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council members. The indictment alleges Wellman gave money to 12 “straw contributors” who in turn contributed to the campaigns of council members in 2018. Federal prosecutors allege Wellman used the straw contributors to circumvent state campaign finance law that limits contributions from individuals to $2,000 per election. The indictment alleges Wellman wanted CRM Companies to secure a contract with the city for a new city government building at the site of the current Lexington Herald-Leader building on Midland Avenue. The push for a new city government center was ultimately abandoned in September.

The indictment refers to the straw contributors by initials only. The council members are not named. Nor does the indictment allege the council members knew about the alleged straw contributors.

Kent Wicker, Wellman’s lawyer, has said Wellman will fight the federal charges. Wellman is scheduled to be arraigned in federal court in Lexington on June 19.

“We’re aware of the appointment,” Wicker said of the special prosecutor. “ We have great respect for Mr. Wine and his office, and we look forward to discussing the issues with them.”

The federal charges are related to lying to federal investigators. Campaign finance violations are under state jurisdiction. Beshear, a commonwealth or county prosecutor can pursue state campaign finance violations, according to state law. State campaign finance violations are Class D felonies and can be punished with a maximum $10,000 fine and between one to five years in prison.

Crystal Staley, a spokeswoman for Beshear, said the office could not comment further on the appointment of a special prosecutor.

CRM Companies CEO and founder Craig Turner said last week he expected Wellman to be cleared of the federal charges.

“I fully expect his name to be cleared of any wrongdoing at the end of this unfortunate process and, in the meantime, CRM Companies will continue on with business as usual,” Turner said in a written statement. Turner was not named in the federal indictment and has not been accused of wrongdoing.

Kerry Harvey, a lawyer for Turner, declined to comment on the appointment of a special prosecutor and referred to Turner’s previously released statement.

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