Knott judge-executive convicted

A jury in U.S. District Court in Pikeville on Thursday convicted Knott County Judge-Executive Randy Thompson in an alleged vote-buying conspiracy, according to an attorney involved in the case.

Thompson was charged with trying to buy votes by misusing taxpayers' money to improve privately owned driveways and build private bridges.

Jurors also convicted John Mac Combs and Phillip Champion, who are deputy judge-executives, and former Magistrate Ronnie Adams.

All were accused of taking part in the vote-buying conspiracy in 2006.

Thompson, a Republican in the heavily Democratic county, was appointed judge-executive in 2006 after the prior office-holder, Donnie Newsome, went to federal prison for buying votes. The judge-executive is the top administrator in most Kentucky counties.

Pikeville attorney Larry Webster, who represented Combs, said the jury convicted Thompson, Combs and Adams of conspiracy and misapplication of funds, but it split its verdict on some other counts.

Jurors convicted Champion of misapplication of funds, but it found him not guilty on the conspiracy charge. And the panel convicted Adams on one count of vote-buying but acquitted him on another, Webster said.

Webster said the convictions will be appealed on several issues. Defense attorneys felt that the evidence was insufficient, and that jurors shouldn't have been allowed to consider some evidence, among other things.

“There's no defendant that would let this go without an appeal,” Webster said.

The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Taylor, and attorneys for others charged in the case were not immediately available for comment.

The case grew out of the November 2006 general election.

After replacing Newsome earlier that year, Thompson won a full term in that race — the first Republican ever elected judge-executive in the county.

But a federal grand jury charged that he cheated to do it.

Federal investigators began looking into the election after a state audit noted a large spike in spending for roadwork before the vote and questioned hundreds of thousands in road spending.

The indictment charged that Thompson sought votes in return for road and bridge work, while Combs and Champion directed where illegal work was to be done. Combs rode on a dump truck to show workers where to put gravel on private roads and drives, and he later sought false receipts to cover up the work, the indictment charged.

Adams, who lost his race for magistrate in May 2006 but became county road foreman under Thompson, sought votes for his boss in return for free paving work, the indictment said.

Witnesses at the trial said the officials asked people who got free road and bridge work to lie and say they paid for it, and even hired a county employee to build bridges in the middle of the night.

But defense attorneys said the spike in road and bridge work before the election was the result of waiting for good working conditions — as well as the arrival of money for the work — and said Thompson and the other officials did not specifically seek votes in exchange for gravel and blacktop.

They also argued the work was needed to improve transportation conditions in the county, so the officials were acting in the best interest of residents.