A judge has ruled that a higher penalty cannot be applied in the felony theft case against former Blue Grass Airport executive director Michael Gobb.
Under new state laws that went into effect in June, a new penalty tier was created in which conviction of felony theft by deception of $10,000 or more carries a penalty of five to 10 years in prison. Previously, all felony theft by deception charges carried a one- to five-year prison sentence.
Gobb faces nine charges of felony theft by deception.
Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine said Tuesday that all charges against Gobb will be treated as Class D felonies, carrying the one- to five-year penalty.
It is against the state and U.S. constitutions for the new penalty to apply in Gobb's case, the judge said.
Goodwine also said that the new threshold of felony theft by deception, $500, will apply in Gobb's case. Previously, the threshold for felony theft by deception was $300.
A jury could receive penalty instructions to treat a charge against Gobb as a Class A misdemeanor, carrying a penalty of no more than a year in jail if the prosecution provides proof of a theft of $300 or more, but less than $500.
Gobb's attorney had asked for clarification in the case because the alleged thefts occurred before the new laws went into effect.
According to the motion filed by defense attorney Patrick Nash, prosecutors have identified about $40,000 worth of expenditures of airport money made by Gobb "that may be considered fraudulent." Prosecutors have not disclosed an amount thought to be fraudulent.
Gobb has pleaded not guilty to all nine charges.
In October, Gobb and three former directors of the Lexington airport — John Coon, John Rhodes and John Slone — were indicted by a grand jury on felony theft charges pertaining to the expenditure of airport money over several years.
The Herald-Leader reported last year that the top five leaders of the airport, including the four who were indicted, spent more than $530,000 on travel, meals, entertainment and other expenses from the beginning of 2006 through the end of 2008. Some of the criminal charges against the four stem from expenditures that occurred earlier than 2006.
Coon and Slone, who each were charged with one count of felony theft by deception, have pleaded guilty to lesser charges and await sentencing. Gobb's case and the case of Rhodes, who was charged with six counts of felony theft by deception, have not been resolved.