Crime

Former Nicholas sheriff Garrett avoids jail time in theft case

Nicholas County Sheriff Leonard "Dick" Garrett wore his uniform Thursday to his trial on charges of felony theft and abuse of public trust. A jury was seated on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011, and the trial could last one or two weeks. Testimony isn't scheduled to begin until Monday, Aug. 8, 2011, in the county courthouse in Carlisle. Photo by Greg Kocher | Staff
Nicholas County Sheriff Leonard "Dick" Garrett wore his uniform Thursday to his trial on charges of felony theft and abuse of public trust. A jury was seated on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011, and the trial could last one or two weeks. Testimony isn't scheduled to begin until Monday, Aug. 8, 2011, in the county courthouse in Carlisle. Photo by Greg Kocher | Staff Greg Kocher | Staff

CARLISLE — Former Nicholas County Sheriff Leonard "Dick" Garrett will serve no jail time but must pay more than $31,000 in restitution to the sheriff's office, a judge said Thursday in sentencing Garrett.

Minutes before Garrett's sentencing, former Deputy Sheriff Benjamin Buckler Sr. pleaded guilty to receiving stolen property. Buckler, 38, was scheduled to go on trial in April on charges that he received more than $300 in federal asset forfeiture money stolen from the sheriff's office, and that he took or was complicit in taking more than $300 from the department's drug asset forfeiture account.

At one time, Garrett and Buckler were co-defendants, but their cases were later separated.

Garrett, 48, who had been sheriff since 2003, resigned from office Aug. 9 as part of a plea agreement. He accepted the agreement just as testimony had begun in his trial in Nicholas Circuit Court on charges of theft and abuse of public trust. Garrett was accused of taking money from an asset forfeiture account and using it for personal benefit.

At issue in the cases was the drug-asset forfeiture account, which contained $95,631 that Garrett received from the federal government for his share of the work in bringing a drug dealer to justice. The dealer, Gary Lee Barnett, was convicted in federal court in Lexington in 2007.

The money in the account was to be used to buy vehicles, equipment and training, but prosecutors said Garrett used more than $900 to pay his homeowner's insurance and nearly $600 to pay for Coca-Cola products.

Thousands more were used to pay personal loans for Buckler, Special Prosecutor Kathryn Hendrickson told a jury in her opening statement at Garrett's trial.

And about $6,000 was spent to make drug buys as part of investigations, but there was documentation only for a $180 buy, Hendrickson said. There were no case reports and no prosecutions resulting from those buys, she said

Under the agreement, Garrett pleaded guilty to theft over $300 and an amended charge of abuse of public trust involving less than $10,000.

Rather than serve a recommended sentence of 10 years in prison, Garrett's sentence was "diverted" for five years, during which time he must meet certain conditions. Those included resignation from office, making restitution and not committing any other crimes.

Garrett also agreed not to run for public office again, even after the five-year diversion ends. He also is to have "no access to firearms," Special Judge Charles Mains said.

Garrett, who plans to open a restaurant in Garrard County and move to either Garrard or Mercer County, said after the sentencing, "I'm glad it's over. I'm going to cook pies, cook chicken and all that."

Before final sentencing, Judge Mains told Garrett: "There's a lot of people in this county who like you and the things you've done, and there was a lot of good public service in your tenure as sheriff.

"But that doesn't excuse what you did. ... I don't know if it was sloppiness on your part or just carelessness, but that's what got you in this situation."

Hendrickson said Thursday that the message of these cases is: "As a public servant, you have an obligation to use funds that your office receives appropriately for the community, for the purpose for which they're intended. And if you don't do that, the consequences are severe."

Garrett said he wishes the sheriff's office had never received the federal money.

"If I'd never seen that, I'd still be sheriff," he said.

Nicholas County Jailer Jeff Sidles was appointed to succeed Garrett as sheriff in August, and Darren Robinson succeeded Sidles as county jailer.

Meanwhile, Buckler is scheduled to be sentenced on March 1.

Buckler must pay $6,311 in restitution to the sheriff's office, which will be deducted from the $38,273 that Garrett was originally supposed to pay. Garrett must now pay $31,962. During Thursday's hearing, Buckler said a relative would pay the entire amount of his restitution.

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