A former federal prosecutor who will investigate whether Louisville police covered up sex-abuse allegations against their own officers has a reputation for taking on adversaries without fear or favor.
Kerry Harvey, a Democrat appointed U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky in 2010 by President Barack Obama, led a team that sent to prison notable Democrats; spearheaded successful prosecutions against the hospital industry he once represented in private practice; and secured the conviction of a former top narcotics cop.
Dennis Foust, a retired district and circuit judge from Marshall County, where Harvey was county attorney, said he will stand up to anyone.
“Position doesn’t matter to him,” Foust said.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said Friday he had hired Harvey to investigate whether “errors were made” in the police department’s response to allegations of abuse in its Youth Explorers program, which is run by the department and the Boy Scouts and is for teenagers interested in becoming police officers.
In a sealed lawsuit revealed by the Courier-Journal, a former Scout identified only as N.C. alleges that he was raped by Officer Brandon Wood and former Officer Kenneth Betts from 2011 to 2013 while in the program and that police covered up the allegations. The Courier-Journal also has reported that an internal investigation of Betts over possible "improper contact" with a teenage girl in the program ended in 2014 when Betts resigned. Wood is still with the force but on administrative assignment.
Fischer has also asked the FBI to investigate the allegations, which he called “our worst nightmare.”
Fischer said he hired Harvey on a $275-an-hour contract “to help us find the truth,” citing his “unassailable reputation” and noting that his office had prosecuted popular figures like former University of Kentucky basketball player Richie Farmer, who misused state money when he was agriculture commissioner.
Harvey, 60, was born in Madisonville, spent his first three years in Webster County, then moved with his family to Marshall, all in Western Kentucky. He still has a mobile phone number with a “270” area code.
His father was a chemical plant worker who was wounded twice as a machine gunner during World War II, while his mother waited tables at Hutchens Hot Pig barbecue restaurant in Benton.
Harvey graduated summa cum laude from Murray State University in 1978 and first in his class from UK School of Law four years later, although he humbly joked to the Lexington Herald-Leader years later that “it might have been a typo.”
Harvey never backed away from going after Democrats despite his appointment by Obama. He led a staff that sent to prison Tim Longmeyer, a former top aide to Gov. Steve Beshear and Attorney General Andy Beshear, as well as Democratic consultant Larry O’Bryan, a middleman in the same kickback scheme that led to charges.
And although Harvey once defended hospitals in private practice, he built cases for billing fraud that led to huge fines for hospitals and convictions for doctors who performed unnecessary procedures.
Harvey has his critics, including lawyers who question whether he’s the best person to conduct a one-man investigation. In his roles as a U.S. attorney and as general counsel for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health Services, Harvey had enormous support: 40 lawyers on his federal staff and 35 in his state office.
But Frankfort attorney William E. Johnson, the dean of the criminal defense bar, said Harvey is more than capable of handling such a probe.
“He’s a very talented lawyer,” Johnson said.
Scott C. Cox, one of Louisville’s most prominent federal criminal defense attorneys, said some criminal defense lawyers did not like that Harvey reduced the number of more lenient sentences for defendants.
When Harvey resigned as a federal prosecutor in January, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that under his leadership, his office “played a crucial role in the Justice Department’s initiatives to prosecute fraud, corruption and white-collar fraud.”
Besides Longmeyer and O’Bryan, Harvey’s federal prosecutors won the conviction of former state Rep. Keith Hall — for paying bribes to a state inspector he arranged to inspect mines owned by Hall — as well as convictions of a former mayor of Paintsville, a former judge-executive of Morgan County and the former director of the Buffalo Trace Narcotics Task Force.
Said Foust, the retired judge from Marshall County: “I will just tell you point blank he is one of the most ethical and intelligent attorneys I have ever been associated with. And he has common sense to go with it, which some people don’t.”
Harvey promised to do a “stem-to-stern” review of how the Louisville police responded to the sex-abuse allegations.
“I take the allegations very seriously,” Harvey said. “The mayor has asked me to turn over every rock to get to the bottom of what happened and why.”
Reporter Andrew Wolfson can be reached at 502-582-7189 or firstname.lastname@example.org.