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Attorney General, Firefighters' Union Respond to Covington Investigation

The Kentucky Attorney General's Office and the International Association of Firefighters Local 38 both responded Wednesday to the report issued by Lexington attorney Scott White that alleged criminal wrongdoing by former Covington city manager Larry Klein and mayor Sherry Carran.

White, a former deputy attorney general under Ben Chandler, was highly critical of the attorney general's office for not pursuing the complaints filed by the firefighters' union ahead of last year's mayoral election in the city.

SEE PREVIOUSLY: Lawyer accuses former Covington city manager, mayor of election violations

According to White, Klein improperly and illegally injected himself into the election by offering assistance to Carran in her reelection bid through the use of city employees and equipment to gather data ahead of campaign events. Carran, White alleged, did not report what he classified as an in-kind contribution from Klein to her campaign.

Both Klein and Carran destroyed emails, White said, that were in accessible to him during his nearly six-month investigation, which also included a thorough review of code enforcement operations that ultimately led to the resignation of longtime city engineer Mike Yeager.

In the report presented Tuesday night at Covington City Hall, White concluded that the state attorney general's office conducted "no investigation at all", and through its inaction, suggested that criminal behavior "will be tolerated". He said the attorney general's decision to clear Klein of any wrongdoing "borders on irresponsibility and dereliction."

Attorney General Andy Beshear's office was asked to review whether Klein had violated election laws by offering information to some candidates but not others, as alleged by the firefighters union. Both the AG office and the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance concluded that Klein had not done anything wrong, though they did not conclude whether local ethics rules had been violated.

White was granted access to Klein's and Carran's city email accounts, as well as the accounts of others within City Hall and presented other emails that were not previously reviewed by either state agency. Carran was ultimately defeated by Joe Meyer, who, along with the rest of the city commission, approved contracting with White to evaluate the issue.

The report was welcomed by Local 38.

“As disappointed as we were with the offices of the Attorney General and the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, we are just as pleased that the city conducted, and received, a detailed and thorough investigation from an independent investigator,” said Local 38 President Mike Lee, in a statement.

Lee said the Attorney General’s office and the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance “basically, did no investigation after we provided substantial email evidence of wrongdoing and informing them it was likely many more such emails existed.” 
White interviewed many city staff members, though he did not talk to Klein or Carran. He blasted the AG's office for not interviewing anyone and solely reviewing the emails that were submitted to them by Kenton County Commonwealth's Attorney Rob Sanders, who, due to a perceived conflict related to his support for Meyer, passed the case on to the state agencies.
The union also said that Fire Chief Dan Mathew, whose retirement was accepted Tuesday night, and city solicitor Frank Warnock exhibited courage and cooperation. White's report said that Warnock warned Klein against his email methods during the campaign, and Mathew suggested that the union conduct an open records request to obtain the emails and to see who was left out of the correspondences.
The union is not calling for more action against Klein and Carran, a statement said.
“For us, we say it’s good to bring these things to light. As for criminal acts and/or sanctions, we leave that for the experts," Lee said.
“But I think it’s important to note that Local 38 will always exercise its First Amendment rights in elections. That’s part of our mission.”
Meanwhile, the attorney general's office responded Wednesday in a statement to The River City News.
“All of the information provided to this office was reviewed by sworn law enforcement officers and a prosecutor with more than thirty years of experience," said deputy attorney general Michael J Brown. "They came to the same independent conclusion as the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. If the lawyer hired by the city believes there is new information, it should be submitted to our office or to the commonwealth’s attorney.”
On Tuesday, both Klein and Carran denied that they deleted any emails and called White's report part of a "witch hunt". Klein maintained that he made the information in question available to any candidate that requested it, and noted that it was all public record. He does not believe he violated any laws and said that the conclusion of the AG's office and KREF supported that claim last year.
-Michael Monks, editor & publisher