Whitesburg KY

Vote fraud trial begins


Jurors heard opening arguments Monday in the trial of four southeastern Kentucky government officials accused of election fraud.

Knott County Judge-Executive Randall Clinton Thompson, Deputy Judge-Executives John Mac Combs and Phillip G. Champion, and former county Magistrate Ronnie Adams were accused in a federal indictment of misappropriating public funds to influence the outcome of the Nov. 7, 2006, general election.

Federal prosecutors say the men conspired to trade government owned gravel, asphalt and bridge-building materials for votes in the local election.

During opening arguments Monday, defense attorneys said the projects were needed for public safety.

“The elderly and the sick needed to have those bridges fixed,” said R. Kent Westberry, one of Thompson’s lawyers. “County officials have a duty to keep the roads safe.”

The increase in road projects immediately before the election was a result of waiting for the proper conditions for paving, he said, and blamed errors on Thompson’s political inexperience.

Assistant U.S. District Attorney Ken Taylor said during opening arguments that fraudulent activities included asking construction companies for fake receipts and having a county employee build bridges at night. He said some residents were asked to vote for Thompson, and some weren’t.

“Sometimes it was just a wink and a nod,” he said.

Thompson was elected judgeexecutive in the fall of 2006 after having been appointed to the role earlier that year. The previous judge-executive, Donnie Newsome, resigned from the post after serving a prison sentence for federal vote fraud.

The four officials were indicted by a federal grand jury in late 2007 after a state audit questioned the validity of $780,814 spent on road work between Sept. 26, 2006, and Jan. 23, 2007.

The charges are among several election fraud cases that federal prosecutors have handled in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. In other recent cases, people have been accused of paying cash, even trading whiskey, for votes.

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