Franklin Co. Sheriff Pat Melton was under FBI investigation, KREF says
02/23/2017 04:07 PM
UPDATED 2/24 WITH REACTION FROM MELTON
FRANKFORT — Over the last two years Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton and his 2014 campaign have been under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance (KREF) regarding Melton’s campaign account, and donations from a suspect in an on-going drug investigation, according to testimony from KREF and Melton’s former campaign treasurer Yvonne Hill.
According to testimony and an interview by Spectrum News with Hill on Thursday, the FBI investigation ended after a federal grand jury was not able to gather enough evidence in the case.
Hill told Spectrum News she was told by the FBI, that they were gathering evidence in the case specifically against Melton, the sitting sheriff in Franklin County.
“The reason [the FBI] subpoenaed me and had me there to speak and answer questions, it’s not that I was the …suspect, so to speak, it was just to verify the series of events around that transaction,” she said.
When asked if they were investigating Sheriff Melton, Hill said “they were.”
“One individual with the FBI kept saying, ‘I promise you this is not about you, but it was still very, very, very difficult.”
So difficult, that Hill said she had a stroke and was hospitalized days after testifying about the case in federal court two years ago.
During Thursday’s KREF board meeting the registry’s general counsel Emily Dennis recounted the allegations that Melton solicited campaign contributions from Timothy Brophy, who has a pending criminal drug case dating back to the time of the alleged solicitation.
According to the allegations, Brophy said they decided to make a $250 donation by check to the campaign, which was later returned to them by the campaign in lieu of a $300 cash donations, which was reportedly requested by Blanton to be placed in three separate envelopes with Brophy’s name, his wife’s name and a “George Sowards” on the third envelope.
The allegations from Brophy continue saying Melton’s campaign manager Craig Blanton drove to Brophy’s business to collect three $100 cash contributions from him, in violation of campaign finance law, which caps cash contributions at $50.
In testimony on Thursday, Hill said that she was later contacted by Blanton at the request of Melton to return the $300 in one check direct to Brophy.
Hill related her recollection of the events that led up to the FBI investigation, and what Melton’s campaign manager asked her to do on Melton’s behalf, she said.
The registry of election finance was unable to prove the allegations of a $250 check sent by Brophy, but Hill’s testimony and a photo copy of the $300 cash contributions was enough to ding Melton’s campaign with impropriety in their campaign account.
In a phone interview on Friday with Sheriff Melton said the original $250 contribution was unsolicited, and arrived in the mail, but was returned because it was written on a corporate check.
“It wasn’t until after the second contribution that I became aware that our detectives were investigating the people in question — that’s why it was immediately returned,” he said.
Melton said the FBI investigation was brought on by his request for an outside investigation into an employee he said was discovered to be participating in illegal activity.
“That led to the FBI becoming involved. After the feds come in they’re going to look into anything and everything, and they have,” he said. “They found no wrong doing on my part, nor the sheriff’s office or my campaign.”
The allegations of the $250 check was enough to spark debate among board members, however. Dennis said the FBI also looked into the allegations and could not develop enough credible evidence. She said the FBI case into Melton’s campaign account is now closed.
The KREF board did move to find the campaign violated KRS 121.180(3)(a)3, by neglecting to make a full report to the registry and properly attributing and itemizing Brophy’s $300 cash contribution. The registry found that even though the error falls on Hill, that any fines imposed under conciliation fall to Melton’s campaign account and not his treasurer.
KREF board chair Craig Dilger asked Hill to pass that message along to Melton, and said if the sheriff had any questions he could call the registry for an explanation.
On Friday, Melton said that he takes “full responsibility” for his campaign as the candidate, but that he did not take place in the day-to-day operations of the campaign that led to this incident.
“At the end of the day [Yvonne Hill] is an absolute angel, and I truly hate any of this happened and she got put into the situation that she was,” he said.
Hill has also served as treasurer for Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, and Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort.
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