Politics & Government

Dad of Alison Lundergan Grimes pleads not guilty in campaign finance conspiracy case

Kentucky Democratic operatives Dale Emmons and Jerry Lundergan pleaded not guilty in federal court Wednesday to allegations they made illegal corporate campaign contributions to the 2014 U.S. Senate campaign of Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Last month, a federal grand jury indicted Lundergan, a former chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party and the father of Grimes, and Emmons, a longtime Democratic campaign consultant, after investigators concluded the two “knowingly and willingly” made illegal corporate contributions to Grimes’ campaign and then worked to cover it up.

After the two made their first appearance in U.S. District Court in Lexington, Guthrie True, Lundergan’s lawyer, said the evidence will show Emmons and Lundergan are not guilty. He alleged the charges are politically motivated.

“It’s bothersome, it’s disturbing that major corporations and outside sources can come into Kentucky and spend tens of millions of dollars influencing elections in our state under the protections of the First Amendment,” True said. “But that a father could be subjected to criminal charges for using his own resources that was earned by the sweat of his own brow to help his own daughter run for public office.”

True said the charges were likely to affect the next two election cycles in Kentucky. Grimes was widely known to be considering a run for either governor or attorney general in 2019.

“Here on the eve of Jerry’s daughter and other candidates announcing their intentions for the future of Kentucky we’ve had this indictment returned,” True said. “There’s no question this indictment is going to impact not one election, but two. Likely this November election and November of ‘19 election. It’s disappointing. It’s disappointing for the people of Kentucky.”

The investigation was launched by a Democratic prosecutor nominated by Barack Obama, but the charges were brought by a Republican prosecutor nominated by Donald Trump.

The indictment alleged Lundergan used his company to pick up expenses for the campaign, but didn’t seek reimbursement from the campaign until a grand jury subpoenaed campaign documents. It also alleged Emmons’ consulting company charged Lundergan and his business for his expenses rather than charging the campaign.

Grimes’ campaign did not have knowledge of the alleged illegal activity, according to the indictment.

Jerry Lundergan left the federal courthouse on in Lexington after his first appearance on campaign finance charges in 2018. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

The payments referenced in the indictment totaled $194,270.39 over time, according to a Justice Department news release. Of that, $119,145.45 was paid by S.R. Holding to Emmons and his company for services provided to the campaign. Emmons also allegedly used his company to pay $38,603.80 to a campaign worker and vendors for automated telephone calls and other campaign-related expenses.

Both Lundergan and Emmons were released on recognizance, with restrictions placed on their travel. Emmons will be limited to travel within the Eastern District of Kentucky before the trial, but his attorney Brandon Marshall indicated that he’ll seek permission to go on a previously planned trip to New York City with his wife in October.

Lundergan will be limited to travel in the state of Kentucky because he has family in the Western part of the state, but he was granted permission Wednesday to visit Virginia and the Carolinas in preparation for Hurricane Florence. One of his company’s specialties is disaster relief, and it is preparing shelters in places likely to be hit by the storm.

“He’s got folks down there in distress that are waiting on him,” True said.

A trial date was set for Tuesday Nov. 13 at 10 a.m. in front of U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove, but True said he will ask for a delay.

“We can’t be ready by November and the court knows that and I think everybody anticipates that,” True said.

Dale Emmons, left, with attorney Brandon Marshall, right, walked Wednesday morning to the federal courthouse on Barr Street in Lexington for his first appearance on campaign finance charges. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com