Each week The River City News talks with Kenton County Commonwealth's Attorney Rob Sanders about his weekly e-newsletter that highlights who was sent to prison or got probation in the previous week. At the bottom of this post you can find a link to that newsletter. Here are this week's questions and answers:
RCN: Tonya Ratliff convicted for welfare fraud. That's something that a lot of people assume is going on all the time. What is the nature of this case and how prevalent do you think the practice actually is?
SANDERS: Tonya Ratliff applied for and received food stamps she wasn't entitled to because other members of her household were employed. Kentucky spent about $7,000 on her that should have gone to other families with greater need for assistance. Welfare fraud is rampant but many people don't take it seriously because they look at it as taking money from the state. In the past, this would have meant taxpayers were spending more than necessary on welfare, but today the demand is greater than the resources. In reality, every penny that goes to someone committing fraud is a penny that didn't go to someone who legitimately needed a helping hand.
RCN: Timothy Little. Crimes involving children are typically viewed as the most heinous by the public. Can you talk about prosecuting this case and do you think he will get the full twelve years?
SANDERS: Timothy Little is a career criminal who took advantage of an underage girl. Little was convicted after his brother found nude photos of the juvenile in Little's bedroom and notified the girl's mother who called state police. Little is getting 2 more years for participating in an organized ring of shoplifters who supplied an on-line fence with stolen goods. He's got 6 years left "on the shelf" from prior convictions where he was let out early on parole. In total he'll be going back for 20 years. He'll serve a greater portion of that sentence than normal because he'll be required to complete sex offender treatment before he's eligible for parole. Given his record and the nature of this case, I'm confident the court will impose the entire 12 years for this offense.
In general, sex offense cases involving child victims are simultaneously the easiest and the hardest cases to prosecute. Easy because there is a lot of motivation to obtain justice for a child and protect other children from the worst of the worst kind of criminal. At the same time, they are the tough cases because there's rarely any evidence other than the word of a child. Usually there's some kind of family ties between victim and criminal that complicate things. And win or lose, child victim cases are mentally very taxing and each one takes a bit of sanity away from prosecutors and detectives. I prosecuted every child victim sex case in Kenton County for two years so I know. I've got a ton of respect for the men and women who investigate and prosecute these cases day in and day out.
RCN: Don't want to beat a dead horse here, but there are several more convictions for heroin possession. There was a rally over the weekend to raise awareness to the heroin epidemic and there has been more media attention to the spike in crime & prostitution related to the drug's use. The folks convicted of possession seem to be headed for probation but what happens to the ones convicted of trafficking? Tougher sentence? Should the police more intensely target the distributors of the drug?
SANDERS: My office always recommends a prison sentence for drug traffickers and the judges usually impose it. Ironically, the sentences are getting lighter, not tougher, thanks to HB 463. The legislature just cut punishment for trafficking less than 2g of heroin to 1-5 years. Drug dealers know this, so now even the biggest drug dealers won't carry more than 2g on them, but they still sell just as much. They also cut the punishment for possession to 1-3 years and took away all enhancements of penalty so there a lot less motivation for drug users to work with police and turn in their suppliers. As a result, it's made it harder for police to bust the dealers. I could live with the reduced penalty for users but cutting the penalty for dealers was dumb. If there is a drug dealer outside your house, it doesn't matter how much they're dealing, what matters is you can't let your kids play outside because of the drug dealer. This is a quality of life issue that legislators who don't live in poorer neighborhoods fail to comprehend.
When you ask whether police should "more intensely target distributors" I've got to ask "which police?" Covington Police, for example, do target distributors but they keep suffering cuts in man power. They're down to 2 detectives doing the bulk of their drug dealing cases but that is all those detectives do. There's probably enough dealers out there to keep 20 detectives busy. It's really a matter of resources, not intensity.
Other departments don't even have dedicated drug units. Participation and funding for the NKY Drug Strike Force is down. Again, it's a matter of resources, not intensity. I'm sure all police agencies would welcome additional resources to combat drug dealing, as would I.
PHOTO: Timothy Little