By Patrick Crowley, The Cincinnati Enquirer
and The Associated Press
COVINGTON - Gov. Paul Patton's former mistress was indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesday on a charge of falsifying her qualifications in trying to obtain state contracts for her western Kentucky construction business.
Tina Conner, 41, of Graves County, whose relationship with Patton ruined his political future, was charged with one count of mail fraud. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The indictment was returned Wednesday by a federal grand jury seated at the federal courthouse in Covington.
An arraignment date has not been set. Conner plans to plead not guilty, according to her lawyer, Thomas E. Clay of Louisville.
Conner was "devastated" by the indictment, Clay said.
Clay said it was "ironic" that Conner has been indicted after it was she who exposed alleged improprieties into the awarding of state set-aside contracts to women and minorities under the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet's Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program.
"I find it ironic that the person who exposed this activity in state government is the only individual who faces a criminal prosecution," Clay said.
Conner has claimed that during their affair Patton helped her win special status under the program for her company, ST Construction. A federal grand jury began investigating shortly after Conner made that statement. Conner has also said she was not qualified to receive preferential treatment under the set-aside program.
Patton, who was not named in the indictment, has acknowledged he asked Transportation Cabinet officials to review Conner's application for the program. But he and Transportation Cabinet Secretary James Codell have denied doing anything improper to assist Conner and ST Construction.
Gregory Van Tatenhove, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky, said the government's investigation is continuing.
"Today's indictment of Tina Conner contains allegations that illustrate the potential for abuse of the troubled (Disadvantaged Business Enterprise) Program," Van Tatenhove said. "The indictment arises out of an ongoing investigation of alleged corruption in state government, including the Kentucky Department of Transportation."
Transportation Cabinet spokesman Mark Pfeiffer said others are likely to be indicted.
The indictment alleges Conner was "aided and abetted" by others in the scheme.
After first denying their relationship, Patton tearfully acknowledged the affair, which ended in 1999, during a press conference televised across the state in September. He then abandoned plans to run against U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, a Southgate Republican, in 2004.
But Patton, who ends his second term in office in early December, has steadfastly denied breaking any laws in assisting Conner and maintained his innocence again Wednesday.
"I haven't any knowledge of the facts relative to that indictment and I think it would be inappropriate for me to comment," Patton said in a statement. "I am convinced I haven't done anything to violate the law. I have not abused my office and I am confident that will be the eventual outcome of these investigations."
ST Construction did not receive any work from the state.
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