Ethics commission summoned former Personnel Cabinet employee for interview months before report's release

01/12/2017 05:38 PM

A former special assistant in the Personnel Cabinet named in an investigative report alleging illegal political fundraising on state time has been interviewed by the Executive Branch Ethics Commission, his attorney said Thursday.

Bill Ryan, who served as special assistant to Personnel Cabinet Secretary Tim Longmeyer, and Steve Ryan, his attorney and brother, met with an investigator and an attorney representing the state ethics panel for about half an hour at the commission’s Frankfort office in November, Steve Ryan said in a phone interview.

Bill Ryan was among those accused of soliciting political contributions from non-merit workers at state government offices and coercing them to donate to campaigns for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jack Conway or Attorney General Andy Beshear or the Kentucky Democratic Party in a report by Indianapolis law firm Taft, Stettinius & Hollister released Wednesday.

That firm won a $500,000 contract to help the Finance and Administration Cabinet investigate these and other allegations of wrongdoing against former Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration raised by Gov. Matt Bevin in an April news conference. Its findings relied on testimony from 16 unnamed non-merit employees, who were granted confidentiality and worked in six cabinets.

Steve Ryan said he agreed with Beshear’s assessment that the investigation was “a political hatchet job.”

His request for witnesses’ identities was denied during a phone interview with attorneys at Taft, Stettinius & Hollister, he said. Investigators say they spoke with the Ryans Oct. 31, according to the report.

“They’re saying they’ve got four people that he solicited from, but they won’t give us the names or any details so until they do that, we don’t really have anything to say,” Steve Ryan told Pure Politics.

Bill Ryan was summoned to the Executive Branch Ethics Commission for an interview in November, Steve Ryan said. Investigators followed a similar line of questioning, asking the former Longmeyer aide about allegations of illegally seeking contributions from state workers, he said.

Bill Ryan “didn’t have any supervisory power and didn’t solicit donations,” Steve Ryan said, adding that he was never told exactly why the commission wanted to interview Bill Ryan or the identities of any witnesses.

“They said they just received some information and were just following up on it, and that was the extent of what they would tell us,” he said. “… They didn’t say who was under investigation.”

Katie Gabhart, executive director of the ethics commission, declined to comment on Steve Ryan’s account of his client’s interview with commission investigators, saying she could neither confirm nor deny an investigation.

The Executive Branch Ethics Commission has not launched a formal inquiry against Bill Ryan.

The commission and Longmeyer, a former aide to both Beshears sentenced to 70 months in federal prison for his role in a kickback scheme during his time as Personnel Cabinet secretary, settled 45 ethics violations stemming from bribes he received and accusations that he directed subordinate employees to fundraise for gubernatorial campaigns and a Jefferson County judicial race on state time between 2011 and 2015.

Longmeyer, penalized $5,000 by the ethics panel, denied allegations that he solicited campaign funds but did not contest them as part of the Nov. 14 settlement.

The investigation conducted by the Finance and Administration Cabinet and Taft, Stettinius & Hollister attorneys yielded some confidential witnesses who said Bill Ryan sought campaign contributions from them. In one phone conversation, a witness said Ryan indicated that his or her donation should be proportional to salary.

Others named in the report either declined or did not return requests for comment.

Joyce Wilcher, an executive assistant in Attorney General Andy Beshear’s office and former executive secretary to Longmeyer, declined a request for comment through Beshear spokesman Terry Sebastian.

Confidential witnesses told investigators that Wilcher asked cabinet employees to donate or volunteer, left work to volunteer at Kentucky Democratic Party headquarters, said non-merit contributions were being tracked and collected contributions at work during the 2015 election cycle, according to the Taft, Stettinius & Hollister report.

Wilcher denied any wrongdoing in an Oct. 31 phone interview with investigators.

Rebecca Goodman, head of Beshear’s Office of Rate Intervention and former executive director of the Transportation Cabinet’s Office of Legal Services, was accused by a pair of confidential witnesses of pressuring non-merit workers for political contributions, which she denied in an Oct. 31 phone interview, per the report.

Her attorney, Jacqueline Sawyers, did not return a message left at her office Thursday.

Walter Gaffield, former executive director of administrative services under Longmeyer, allegedly fundraised on state time, including for a pair of Jefferson County judicial campaigns. He did not return a phone message seeking comment, and he did not respond to investigators as they attempted to schedule an interview, according to the report.

One confidential witness said Steve Rucker, a former deputy secretary in the Finance and Administration Cabinet who passed in March, directed him or her to former Secretary Lori Flanery’s unlocked car to retrieve a pre-addressed envelope to Conway’s campaign and donate, according to the report.

The report says Flanery denied ever leaving her car unlocked to help distribute pre-addressed envelopes or soliciting campaign contributions from non-merit workers during an Oct. 25 interview. She did not return a phone message left at her office Thursday.

Mike Haydon, Beshear’s former chief of staff who passed in August 2012, was accused by one confidential witness of strong-arming him or her into raising $10,000 for Steve Beshear’s 2011 re-election and tracking funds raised by non-merit workers.

Both Beshears criticized the report after its release, with the former governor calling it “a joke” and Andy Beshear dismissing it as “a grossly political, partisan document.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a Video Journalist for Spectrum News and covers Kentucky politics and all the goings-on at the State Capitol. Kevin was born and raised in Frankfort so he grew up around politics and has always had the drive to follow the political process and hold lawmakers accountable. Before joining Spectrum News Kevin covered government and politics for The State Journal in Frankfort. You can watch Kevin’s work weeknights at 7:00 and 11:30 on Pure Politics, available exclusively on Spectrum News, HD Channels 403 and 715. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135.

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