Steve Henry accepts plea deal - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Steve Henry accepts plea deal

A $500 fine and a plea deal settle charges that former Kentucky Lieutenant Governor Steve Henry violated state campaign finance laws.

Henry still denies wrongdoing. He says he agreed to the plea to spare his family further publicity and a costly defense.  Henry's actions went against the advice of his attorney, who believed a jury would acquit him. 

In Franklin Circuit Court at Frankfort on Tuesday afternoon, Steve Henry made an Alford plea, in which he maintains he's innocent, but admits prosecutors have enough evidence to convict him.

The plea deal includes reducing three felonies to misdemeanors and paying a $500 fine.

Henry was accused of violating state campaign finance laws during the early days of his run for governor in 2006 and 2007.

"The law says that, when you run for office, the law says you have to knowingly do it. We had no idea, no idea," Henry said.

Prosecutors and those who made the alleged violations public disagree.

"He is the biggest control freak I have ever met in my life. No checkbook was ever out of his hand at any moment in time," said Leslie Holland, former campaign manager.

"He always knew where every dime was and where it came from," Holland said.

Holland brought the original complaint to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance in 2007.  She had support and verification from former Henry campaign finance director Jacob Payne.

"Innocent people don't accept Alford pleas. They don't forfeit 600 grand. They don't pay fines to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. And they most certainly don't continually blame others for their mistakes," Payne said.

Henry called the investigation a "political witch hunt."

In the weeks before his court hearing, he paid a $10,000 civil fine to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance and agreed to give up more than $600,000 he had loaned the campaign.

"In the past I've been a candidate, but I've never run a campaign. I think that's a sign that we had some problems in the campaign. But again, the captain of the ship, you go down with the ship. That's what we're doing today," said Henry.

"It's merely a misdemeanor with really no punishment," said Brian Butler, Henry's attorney.

Steve Henry now has a criminal record that may make it harder to run for office again.  But in speaking with reporters, he would not rule it out completely.

"My wife told me that we're not available for politics," said Henry.

Henry was considered his party's frontrunner in the 2007 campaign. He lost the Democratic primary election to current Governor Steve Beshear.

Henry, 56, is a Louisville surgeon.

Franklin County Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate approved a plea agreement that allowed Henry to avoid the possibility of a jail sentence if he had been convicted on the original felony campaign finance charges.

"I just wanted to get the matter behind me," Henry said.

In accepting the plea bargain, Henry went against the advice of defense attorney Brian Butler who insisted that his client could have prevailed.

"I advised him not to accept this plea," Butler told Wingate. 

"He believes it is in his best interest to do so," Butler said.  "He understands exactly what he is doing."

In addition to the fine, Wingate ordered Henry to pay $156 in court costs.

Special Prosecutor Jim Crawford said he wasn't being lenient with Henry by agreeing to reduce the charges.

"If we had gone to trial, I believe I would have gotten a conviction," Crawford said. "But I'm not sure whether he would have gotten a jail sentence."

The plea ends an almost three-year investigation by state police into allegations that Henry violated election-finance laws during his failed run for governor in 2007. Henry finished third in the Democratic primary, behind current Gov. Steve Beshear and businessman Bruce Lunsford.

Former Gov. Paul Patton chose Henry as his running mate in 1995.

They were elected twice, with Henry serving as Patton's lieutenant governor from 1995 to 2003. Henry was considered heir apparent to Patton.

Henry was acclaimed for helping to develop beads containing large doses of antibiotics that could be packed directly into wounds on the battlefield. The treatment has been used on soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. And in 2000, Henry married former Miss America Heather French in a ceremony that drew some 1,200 guests and was carried live on Louisville television stations.

Then came a series of political setbacks.

Henry's ties to Patton became a political liability after Patton admitted to an extramarital affair late in his second term. And in 2003, Henry was accused of billing for surgeries he didn't attend.

That case was resolved when he reached an agreement with federal prosecutors. Henry maintained he did nothing wrong but paid the government $162,000 in a settlement. The state's medical licensing board found no violations of medical practice laws.

The latest case originated when a former political aide accused Henry of fundraising improprieties in the 2007 gubernatorial campaign. In his initial response, Henry called the allegations "completely unfounded," saying they were made by a "disgruntled former employee."

This story contains additional information reported by Roger Alford of the Associated Press.


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