Wednesday, May 02, 2001

Ethics panel to check wedding work

State resources for Lt. Gov. in question

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — An investigation of Lt. Gov. Steve Henry's use of state resources to help stage his October wedding to former Miss America Heather French has been turned over to the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.

        The report found four specific items that warrant the commission's attention, said Auditor Ed Hatchett.

        In addition to three items relating to specific use of state resources for the wedding, such as photographers and planners, the report found state employees helped arrange for private, compensated appearances by Mrs. Henry months before her marriage.

   The four allegations against Lt. Gov. Steve Henry referred by the auditor to the Executive Branch Ethics Commission:
   • State employee volunteers used more than 500 hours of personal leave valued at more than $16,000 to work on the Oct. 27 wedding of Mr. Henry to former Miss America Heather French.
   • The Division of Creative Services produced press packets for the wedding. By using the state agency, rather than a private vendor, the report estimated Mr. Henry received a benefit worth $1,160.
   • The Division of Creative Services produced 628 photographs of the wedding or engagement that cannot be accounted for. The photos are worth $1,373.80.
   • State employees were used before and after the wedding to schedule Mrs. Henry's private appearances. By not using a professional firm for such scheduling, the report estimated Mr. Henry received a personal gain of more than $7,400.
        Mr. Henry said the audit found that no state money was spent on the wedding and the referral to the ethics commission is unwarranted. Mr. Henry read a brief written statement and refused to answer questions. “We've made a major statement that there's no impropriety here,” Mr. Henry said.

        A written response to the report by Mr. Henry's lawyer, Jack Smith of Louisville, said the help in wedding planning came from friends and Mr. Henry got no financial benefit. “He considered the work of volunteers to be a simple case of friends helping friends,” Mr. Smith said.

        Most of the items contained in the report had been the subject of previous news reports.

        Even with reimbursements totaling $3,244 from Mr. Henry and the couple's parents, Mr. Hatchett said in an interview that Mr. Henry took advantage of services not available to ordinary Kentucky citizens or even state employees.

        While state employees often performed the work on compensatory or leave time, they often did so during regular business hours and had to get the permission of their boss — Mr. Henry himself in many instances — to do so.

        “He's got a conflict of interest that he can't reconcile,” Mr. Hatchett said. “That's the problem he's got.”

        The ethics commission is scheduled to meet next on May 11 and Executive Director Jill LeMaster said the matter would be taken up. The commission can do anything from dismiss the matter to impose fines of up to $5,000 for each violation.

        In one case, the report found that Donna Moloney, the coordinator of special events for Gov. Paul Patton's office, spent 207 hours of personal leave to work on the wedding.

        “At an acknowledged market rate of $50 per hour for professional wedding planners, Ms. Moloney's services during regular business hours alone provided a benefit in excess of $10,000,” the report said.

        The report also found 628 photographs of the wedding or engagement had not been accounted for with a value of $1,373. Hundreds of other pictures were reimbursed or were for official business, the report found.

        Mrs. Henry's former executive assistant, Libbi Taylor, was found to have spent substantial work time handling wedding planning and requests for Mrs. Henry's appearances.

        The report said the first correspondence seeking Mrs. Henry's appearance are dated July 19, 2000, months before the Oct. 27 wedding.

        The stationery for “Miss America 2000 Heather Renee French” included a return address for the lieutenant governor's mansion.

        The report found that 19 requests were accepted with fees of $18,200. Twenty other requests, with potential fees of $11,500 were pending. Another 37 requests for appearances, which included potential fees of $1,000, were declined.

        The report said Ms. Taylor was initially unable to determine how much of her work time was spent on official duties and how much was spent on Mrs. Henry's personal affairs. Ms. Taylor later applied for leave time.

        “State employees performing duties that inure to the personal financial gain of a state official or his family creates that appearance of an inappropriate use of an official position, even if those employees take personal leave to do so,” the report said.

        The report said there were no criminal violations. In addition, the report said it found there was no inappropriate compensation for state employees who worked on the wedding or improper use of state vehicles or Kentucky State Police personnel. The state did not pay any of the direct costs of the wedding.

        Ms. Taylor's hiring as assistant to Mrs. Henry in September actually started the investigation of state resources going toward the wedding.

        During the investigation, Mr. Hatchett said other evidence came up that was turned over to federal law-enforcement authorities. Prosecutors and Mr. Henry's lawyer have acknowledged there is a federal grand jury investigation involving Mr. Henry in Louisville.

        Mr. Henry's lawyer said the subject is billing from Mr. Henry's orthopedic surgery practice to federal reimbursement programs such as medicare and Medicaid.

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