Politics & Government

Kentucky lawmaker accused of spending corporate money on campaign

Ben Waide, District 10 State Representative. LRC Photo
Ben Waide, District 10 State Representative. LRC Photo

State Rep. Forrest "Ben" Waide, R-Madisonville, improperly diverted money from a physical therapy corporation he co-owns with two other men, steering some of it into his political activities, according to a lawsuit filed this week.

Among the allegations in the suit: Waide improperly used corporate money to pay for campaign expenses such as newspaper advertisements, photography and mass mailings, and he charged the corporation for his legislative trips to the state Capitol in Frankfort, although taxpayers reimburse him nearly $17,000 every year for his legislative mileage, meals and hotel rooms, according to public records.

Waide did not return calls seeking comment Thursday. His attorney, Todd P'Pool, denied wrongdoing and said Waide offered to pay "thousands of dollars" to settle the dispute before it went to court. Waide's partners took more money out of the corporation than he did, P'Pool said.

"At the end of the day, after a review of all the evidence, they have no financial damages. Now, they can try to embarrass Mr. Waide politically," P'Pool said.

The plaintiffs also have filed a complaint against Waide with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. It's illegal in Kentucky for a corporation to make campaign donations to state candidates. Registry officials said Thursday that they couldn't comment on new complaints.

Waide was elected to the General Assembly in 2010 and was re-elected in 2012. After the House redistricting plan last August pitted him against another incumbent Republican, Waide announced that he'll run this year for Hopkins County judge-executive.

The final sum in dispute in the lawsuit could exceed $200,000, taken from the corporation between 2006 and 2013, said John Whitfield, an attorney for Waide's partners in Liberty Rehabilitation PSC of Madisonville.

Waide's partners, Lawrence Holmes and Jason Myers, recently discovered that Waide used corporate money for his personal and political benefit, Whitfield said. Copies of credit card statements, checks, receipts and other financial documents are attached to the lawsuit in Hopkins Circuit Court.

"Some of the expenditures — massages and pedicures at The Four Seasons Hotel in St. Louis, his trip to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, his trips to Frankfort as a legislator — when my clients started seeing these, it raised red flags for them," Whitfield said.

The suit asks for financial reimbursement from Waide, punitive damages and an order preventing him from spending any more of the corporation's money.

Holmes and Myers met with Waide before they sued him, to question him and demand repayment, Whitfield said.

"His response was basically, 'I don't have the money to pay you back,'" Whitfield said. "And that's not really a satisfactory answer."

P'Pool disputed that account, calling it "an absolute lie." The three partners had the matter "just about resolved" until the lawsuit took the disagreement public and "turned it into a political theater," P'Pool said.