Former Prestonsburg mayor faked mental impairment to avoid trial, psychologist says

A magistrate judge recommended finding former Prestonsburg Mayor Jerry S. Fannin competent to stand trial on a corruption charge after a psychologist concluded Fannin faked the severity of his mental impairment during tests.

Fannin’s attorney argued in response that the psychologist had no expertise in judging how strokes have damaged Fannin’s ability to think and help with his defense.

The attorney, Ned Pillersdorf, urged U.S. District Judge Karen K. Caldwell to reject the recommendation that Fannin is able to stand trial and instead order neurological testing for him.

However, the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Taylor, said there was ample evidence to conclude Fannin is competent to be tried, and pointed to an earlier incident in which Fannin allegedly faked disability.

When he was mayor, Fannin filed for benefits after claiming was disabled because of a fall from a truck that hurt his back.

Soon after the fall, however, Fannin bench-pressed 315 pounds in a weigh-lifting competition, “suggesting that he has a history of exaggerating impairment” for gain, Taylor said in a motion.

Caldwell has not made a decision.

A grand jury indicted Fannin earlier this year on one count of intentionally misapplying taxpayer money in 2013, when he was mayor.

He allegedly used public funds to support a professional arena football team based in Pikeville called the Kentucky Drillers. Fannin was an investor in the team and played on it.

The indictment accused Fannin of giving city money to the team, using public funds to pay for motel rooms for team members and using city-owned vans for a team trip to Michigan.

The total amount of city money spent to benefit the team was about $7,800, the indictment said.

Fannin suffered strokes after leaving office but before he was indicted, court records indicate.

Pillersdorf asked to have him evaluated, saying brain damage from the strokes raised a concern that Fannin could not help in his legal defense.

Allyson Wood, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology, evaluated Fannin at the federal medical prison in Lexington.

After several tests, Wood concluded that Fannin “feigned or exaggerated physical or mental symptoms,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Edward B. Atkins wrote.

For instance, on one test where Fannin was supposed to try to memorize five letters or numbers, he could only recall two.

Wood testified that even people with severe brain damage and other intellectual disabilities could recall three figures, according to Atkins’ decision.

Prison staffers said Fannin was able to talk with them and didn’t have trouble remembering details of his life, Wood testified.

Medical records from soon after the strokes also said Fannin’s comprehension was intact and did not list concerns about cognitive or memory impairment, Wood testified.

Fannin’s son and estranged wife, who has cared for him since the stroke, testified the strokes have debilitated him.

Michael Fannin said his father did not recognize him at times and stays in bed all day, while Tiffany Fannin said Fannin called her by the wrong name and can’t take his medication without her help.

Don Chaffin, a Martin County physician and longtime friend of Fannin’s, said he believes Fannin suffers from a syndrome as a result of the strokes that can show up in a lack of effort on psychological tests and memory losses.

Atkins recommended that based on a preponderance of the evidence, Fannin be judged competent to stand trial because he has the ability to help in his defense.

Pillersdorf filed objections, saying that Wood testified she had no expertise in how strokes affect memory or motivation.

However, Taylor said Wood was qualified to judge Fannin’s cognitive functioning.

In addition, there was evidence from other sources, including medical records, to support a finding that Fannin is competent to stand trial, Taylor said.

The charge is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.