By Beth Musgrave
FRANKFORT — A former high-ranking official in Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration faces ethics charges for allegedly pressuring state employees to give money to Beshear’s re-election campaign in 2010.
The Executive Branch Ethics Commission charged Charles Geveden Sr., a former deputy secretary with the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, with three ethics violations on Monday.
According to the charges released by the commission, Geveden told state employees who worked under him at the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet that they should give to the Democratic governor’s re-election campaign an amount based on how much money that they made. Geveden also allegedly used his official position at the cabinet to obtain personal cell phone numbers of state employees. Geveden is also accused of allegedly telling a subordinate employee to solicit campaign contributions from individual employees who reported to the subordinate.
That subordinate employee was not named in the charges released Monday. John Steffen, the executive director of the Executive Branch Ethics Commission, declined to name the subordinate employee but said that Ethics Commission investigators talked to Department of Corrections and Department of Juvenile Justice employees.
The subordinate declined to make the calls so Geveden allegedly made the phone calls himself, Steffen said.
Steffen said that there was “nothing that suggests that” Beshear knew of Geveden’s alleged improprieties.
Kerri Richardson, a spokeswoman for Beshear, said that the governor’s office was not aware of “any improper actions by Mr. Geveden, and the governor has not been involved in any inquiries about Mr. Geveden.”
Geveden, a former state representative, retired from state government in December 2011. He was first appointed as a deputy secretary of Justice and Public Safety in December 2007.
Guthrie True, a lawyer who represents Geveden, said he had not seen the ethics charges and could not comment on them. True said that Geveden has said in the past that he never threatened state employees — such as the loss of their job — if they did not give to Beshear’s campaign. Beshear handily beat Republican challenger and former state Senate President David Williams in 2011.
Steffen said the commission investigators also never found that Geveden threatened state employees with the loss of their job during their investigation.
True said Geveden has not spoken with either the FBI or investigators with Attorney General Jack Conway’s office about his fundraising activities. True said that he understands that both agencies have questioned state employees about Geveden’s fundraising activities.
“I am aware that some interviews have been conducted,” True said.
Allison Gardner Martin, a spokeswoman for Conway, confirmed that the agency received a complaint last year about Geveden but declined to say whether an investigation was initiated or what the status of that investigation was.
“We handled it according to the investigative protocol of this office,” Martin said. “It is the policy of our office to neither confirm or deny the existence of an investigation or lack thereof.”
Mary Trotman, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Kentucky, said that she could also neither confirm or deny the existence of an ongoing investigation.
The issue first surfaced in August when a psychologist with the Department of Juvenile Justice complained that Geveden had asked him for a campaign donation. That complaint was forwarded to Attorney General Jack Conway’s office and the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.
Emily Dennis, general counsel with Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, said the registry decided to “differ any action pending the outcome of any investigation that the attorney general’s office may be conducting.”
If found guilty of all three ethics violations, Geveden could face a fine of up to $15,000, or $5,000 for each alleged ethics violation and a public reprimand. Geveden will have 20 days to respond to the allegations and then the matter can go before an administrative hearing officer. Ethics violations are civil proceedings.