Harlan County magistrate charged with abuse of public trust, misuse of confidential information

A prominent businessman who is a county magistrate in Harlan County has been charged with two felonies, Kentucky State Police announced Monday.

James F. Howard, 63, is charged with misuse of confidential information and abuse of public trust involving less than $10,000.

Police arrested Howard on Friday. He quickly posted bond and was released, according to court records.

The charges outline an alleged conflict of interest by Howard when he was chairman of the county Industrial Development Authority in 2009 and 2010.

Howard accepted or agreed to accept five checks from the authority, totaling $5,941, to a company called L.P. Energy in which he is a major shareholder and managing member, according to a criminal complaint signed by Detective Jim T. Whitaker III.

The state police Drug Enforcement/Special Investigations Unit based in Lexington conducted what was described as a lengthy investigation.

State police did not provide any additional information about the investigation, other than to say more arrests are possible.

Howard, a Democrat, was elected magistrate in 2014 and took office early this year. He is no longer head of the industrial authority.

The charges against Howard are Class D felonies punishable by one to five years in prison.

Howard told the Herald-Leader on Monday that he expects to be vindicated in court.

"I haven't done anything wrong," Howard said.

Howard said the charges involve propane gas his company delivered to a building that had once been used by a furniture maker that went out of business.

Heat had to be maintained in the building while the industrial authority was looking for a new tenant, and there were times when gas deliveries were needed right away, Howard said.

All the deliveries by L.P. Energy were approved by the authority's board and the deliveries were made according to the invoices, Howard said.

Howard is to be arraigned next month.