Democratic candidate in W. Ky. House race indicted for failing to report sexual abuse against a minor

09/30/2014 03:19 PM

A Democratic candidate for state House has been indicted for failing to report sexual abuse against a child while serving as director of the Bluegrass ChalleNGe Academy at Fort Knox.

A federal grand jury indicted John Wayne Smith, who’s running against Rep. Michael Meredith in the 19th House District, and six other employees at the academy Sept. 25, one of whom was charged with sexual misconduct with three female students between Feb. 8, 2013, and Aug. 7, 2013, and threatening one of the victims from reporting him to authorities.

Smith, who resigned from Bluegrass ChalleNGe Academy Dec. 31, is accused of failing to report an incident involving 44-year-old Stephen Miller and the first female victim on Feb. 12, 2013, according to the indictment. Miller is charged with sexual abuse against two other female minors in the months following.

WDRB-TV first reported the indictment Monday. Smith, who dedicates a section of his campaign website to his work with the program for at-risk youths, did not return calls at his home in Smiths Grove seeking comment.

Smith, a retired colonel in the Kentucky National Guard, could face a year imprisonment, $100,000 in fines and a year of supervised release if found guilty, according to the indictment.

His indictment prompted Republican Party of Kentucky chairman Steve Robertson to call on Smith to leave the race.

“In light of this news, it would certainly seem clear that this gentleman needs to withdraw from this race, and I certainly hope that (House) Speaker Greg Stumbo and Kentucky Democratic Party chairman Dan Logsdon agree with that assessment,” Robertson said in a phone interview with Pure Politics.

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, declined to comment on the matter in a statement to Pure Politics.

“I did not comment on Rep. Ben Waide’s recent criminal indictment, and I am going to follow the same rule here,” he said. “As a former attorney general, I allow the justice system to work, and do not comment on ongoing legal matters.”

Logsdon could not be reached for comment.

The accusation against Smith for failing to report sexual abuse by one of his staffers is “almost a direct parallel” with an ongoing sexual harassment scandal that’s swept through the House and emerged as a campaign issue in some races this cycle, Robertson said.

“To me it’s ironic that the House Democrat caucus has had similar problems in the last couple of years with allegations of sexual harassment, but certainly I think in light of what’s been learned, I mean, there’s really only one solution for this individual and it’s to go pay attention to his mounting legal issues instead of paying attention to being a candidate for political office,” he said.

Meredith, R-Brownsville, stopped short of calling for his opponent’s withdrawal from the election. He said it’s “very early” to rush to conclusions “because obviously everybody has their day in court, but I do think think it raises some questions, too.”

“I think any time something like this happens, anybody’s shocked,” Meredith said in a phone interview with Pure Politics. “I was certainly shocked when I first heard what was going on.”

The fact that Smith was indicted by a federal grand jury is enough for him to step aside as a candidate now rather than wait on a legal resolution in his federal case, in Robertson’s perspective.

“I think he should probably just step away from being a candidate for public office,” he said. “There’s obviously a great deal of controversy surrounding this issue.”

Kentucky Adjutant General Edward W. Tonini released a statement to WDRB-TV that read, in part:

The Bluegrass Challenge Academy and the Kentucky National Guard take these allegations very seriously. Cadet safety is a critical priority. Three employees named in the indictment have been placed on investigative leave; the others are no longer employed by Bluegrass Challenge Academy.

Since this investigation began, a new executive director has been hired who has extensive experience in juvenile justice and safety.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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