Eastern Kentucky official indicted for spending $700. Judge sets $250,000 cash bond.

gavel in courtroom
gavel in courtroom Getty Images/iStockphoto

Breathitt County Judge-Executive Jeff Noble was indicted Monday on two felony counts and one misdemeanor count for allegedly using $700 of public money to buy lumber for personal use.

The indictment, signed by Breathitt Circuit Judge Frank Fletcher, sets a $250,000 full cash bond for Noble and lists three alleged offenses: abuse of public trust, a class D felony; theft by unlawful taking, a class D felony; and official misconduct in the first degree, a class A misdemeanor.

Derek Campbell, Noble’s attorney, said Noble is currently in Mexico on a family vacation, and will return next Monday. He said Noble will immediately report to the Breathitt County Sheriff’s Office when he returns.

Campbell said the lumber in question was used for a publicly-owned bridge, not for Noble’s personal gain.

“The fact of the matter is that under the dictates of KRS Chapter 178 the bridge in question in this case is a county owned property that must continue to be maintained as such,” Campbell said in a written statement. “Such points were made clear to the investigators in the Breathitt County Sheriff’s Office but seem to have fallen on deaf ears.”

Noble, who is serving his first term as judge-executive, has been at odds with the county’s magistrates since he took office.

Earlier this year, Noble filed suit against his own fiscal court over the appointment of a road supervisor. A circuit court judge in that case urged the two sides to come to a compromise, going so far as to order the two sides to meet twice a week at a local McDonald’s.

The judge later overturned that decision.

Campbell said Monday’s indictment also has political overtones.

“I’ve spent most of my life in the political realm in our region but in all my years I never thought I’d see the day that a political machine would pervert our justice system simply to beat down their political opponents,” Campbell said.

Disputes over road funds have landed other Eastern Kentucky county officials in legal trouble over the years.

In 2012, former Knott County Judge-Executive Randy Thompson and three others were convicted in a federal vote fraud case that alleged that Thompson used road funds to improve private driveways and bridges in an effort to buy votes.

According to Monday’s indictment, Noble allegedly used the $700 for lumber in August of this year. The indictment does not give any further details on how he used the lumber.

Thompson said he was not sure where the bridge is located, but said it is not privately owned.

“While I am dismayed that the Court and criminal justice system will have to waste their valuable time and limited resources on a matter as trivial and obviously not only within the allowances but the mandates of the law as this, I am eternally confident in the sound, capable reasoning of a jury of our peers and look forward to an expeditious handling of this matter,” Campbell said.

Will Wright is a corps member with Report for America, a national service project made possible in Eastern Kentucky with support from the Galloway Family Foundation. Based in Pikeville, Wright joined the Herald-Leader in January 2018 and reports on Eastern Kentucky.