Former Paintsville mayor sentenced to four years in corruption case

Former Paintsville Mayor Robert Porter has been sentenced to four years in prison in a federal corruption case.

U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves also ordered Porter to pay a $4,000 fine. Reeves sentenced Porter Thursday.

A jury convicted Porter in September of three counts of misappropriating money and public resources.

Porter was charged with not paying for more than $7,000 worth of city utility service to houses he owned in town, and with using taxpayer money for personal expenses such as maintenance and repairs on his personal vehicles, gas and shipping charges.

Evidence also showed that Porter used a city-owned vehicle — which had been seized in a drug case — for personal trips, according to a news release from U.S. Attorney Kerry B. Harvey.

Porter had been mayor since January 2007. He resigned after he was convicted.

More than 20 people wrote letters to Reeves seeking leniency for Porter.

Supporters described Porter as a good family man who had been an effective mayor, helping revitalize the downtown, supporting businesses and pushing initiatives to help the city and residents.

In a court motion, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kenneth R. Taylor and Kate Smith acknowledged positives in Porter’s career.

However, the prosecutors said the case illustrated two kinds of public corruption that are “all too common” in the eastern half of Kentucky: the use of official authority to steer business to people in exchange for political support and financial gain; and what could be called a misguided sense of entitlement, in which officeholders use public resources for their own benefit.

The prosecutors said no single thing Porter did — getting a free oil change, missing a utility bill, cutting corners on bid rules to help a friend — seemed outrageous.

“But it is the persistence, brazenness, and sheer volume of (Porter’s) misconduct, in the face of repeated warnings and public complaints, that make this a very serious offense,” the prosecutors said in calling for a significant sentence.

Reeves ordered Porter to report to prison on March 13.

Porter’s attorney, Mark Wohlander, said he plans to appeal his conviction.

Two other men pleaded guilty in the case.

Larry Herald, former manager of the city utilities service, was charged with helping Porter avoid paying for service between 2009 and mid-2012 by squelching shutdown orders; and Eulas Crace, who once owned a towing service and construction company, allegedly paid Porter to get work with the city.

Herald pleaded guilty to lying to an FBI agent and was sentenced to two years on probation and a $5,000 fine.

Crace pleaded guilty to paying an illegal gratuity to a public official. He is to be sentenced next month.