Cautionary tale of violating public trust

Michael Gobb's fall from respect and power to convicted felon should deter others who may be tempted to abuse positions of trust.

The Blue Grass Airport's former executive director treated the airport as his personal piggybank and condoned similar abuses by his lieutenants.

On Friday, Gobb became the fourth and final former airport executive to face sentencing by Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine.

Public confidence that justice would be served had already soured by then because of Goodwine's handling of the earlier cases.

She explained her leniency toward the three lower-level execs — no prison, no probation, no public service requirements, a conditional discharge — by citing the Christianity of one and by saying that no one had written her urging a stiffer sentence for the others.

Also, there were questions about whether she should recuse herself, as an appeals court had ordered her to do in an earlier civil case, because of her past service on an airport advisory board. Neither Commonwealth Attorney Ray Larson nor Gobb's attorney asked her to step aside.

Goodwine sentenced Gobb to five years of probation and 500 hours of community service. He is required to undergo random drug and alcohol testing and could be imprisoned if he violates his probation. He has reimbursed the airport $55,000.

Goodwine also, finally, appeared to comprehend the seriousness of the crimes, telling Gobb, "the public is angry and rightly so."

Prosecutor Larson, who declined to ask Goodwine to let another judge sentence Gobb, criticized the lack of prison time.

Larson correctly observed that many people "interpret the fact that white-collar criminals seldom go to prison as rich man's justice" and that this undermines faith in the judicial system.

Public officials, especially, should be held to high standards. While Gobb's fall should deter crime, some may take the view that he was able to live high for years by stealing from the airport without having to do any time.

More than $500,000 in questionable or unexplained spending over three years was documented by state auditors. Gobb and his lieutenants showered themselves with $700 champagne, expensive cigars, gifts, outings, travel, meals, a now notorious visit to a strip club, all at the airport's expense.

Gobb sometimes covered his tracks by charging his spending to other managers' credit cards. He authorized more than $100,000 in bonuses and vacation payout days for himself without board approval.

All this might never have come to light without Herald-Leader staff writer Jennifer Hewlett, whose reporting sparked the audit, a shake-up in airport management and criminal investigations.

Gobb's arrogant sense of entitlement, enabled by a passive board, is perplexing in someone who ably led the airport through difficult times.

Goodwine noted that he had suffered problems with drug and alcohol abuse since 2003, which helps explain — but does not excuse — the rot that infected Blue Grass Airport.