State DUI counselor under investigation

LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) -- A state counselor for convicted drunk drivers signed "completion notices” for participants who had not actually finished a mandatory alcohol treatment program, according to a state investigation.

The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services has revoked the certification for Rick Shelton and his Louisville business, Shelton Counseling, and the Jefferson Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office is investigating.

The issue came to light in Jefferson District Court this week when attorneys for the cabinet informed Judge David Holton that he had given a three-time convicted drunken driver his license back after the judge was wrongly informed that the defendant had completed a year’s worth of required treatment.

In fact, defendant Dennis Saling had only finished three months of alcohol treatment classes when Holton was presented with a “falsified completion form” earlier this month from Shelton Counseling, according to the cabinet’s investigation.

“This is a perpetration of fraud on the court,” Holton said in court on Thursday.  “The integrity of our judicial system is of utmost importance.”

Holton said he was “disturbed that an accredited alcohol treatment provider would submit a letter of completion” that was false. “I certainly believe that further steps should be taken to make sure this provider and others are not engaging in that activity.”

Carrie Cotton, an attorney for the cabinet, told the judge the certifications for Shelton and his business have been revoked and he is on administrative leave. Shelton did not return a phone message left at his office.

Cotton would not say if the cabinet believes other defendants had been improperly given credit for treatment classes they did not attend.

Jill Midkiff, a spokesperson for the the cabinet, said the Saling case was discovered after they received a complaint about Shelton Counseling, though she did not immediately have information about that complaint. She also did not know how many defendants his company has handled.

Midkiff said Shelton’s certification was revoked by the state in June but that he has appealed that decision.

A June 12 letter from the cabinet to Shelton, which notes he been certified since September 2013, said that cabinet employees had reviewed his “client records, observed treatment sessions offered by your agency” and looked at sign-in-sheets. The letter said Shelton had signed completion notices for “DUI clients that did not receive the required treatment.”

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Leland Hulbert acknowledged the office was investigating Shelton.

During a lengthy hearing on Wednesday, LeeEtta Cummings, a DUI program manager for Kentucky employed by the cabinet, testified that Saling enrolled in Shelton Counseling on Jan. 9 and his completion form was dated May 9.

On Thursday, both sides worked out an agreement in which Saling asked the court to withdraw the judge’s order reinstating his license, and the Cabinet dropped a motion to hold Saling in contempt.

Under the agreement, Saling and his attorney also acknowledged that the records of Shelton Counseling were incorrect and he would re-enroll in a certified DUI program to finish the remaining nine months of sessions.

Murray Turner, Saling’s attorney, acknowledged to Holton that there are "problems with the records” provided by Shelton Counseling. He told Holton, however, that it wasn’t a “fraud” on the court, but a matter of “poor record keeping.”

“From what I heard … I don’t know that I agree,” Holton responded. “It will be interesting to see where the cabinet goes with this in the future.”

The Jefferson County Attorney’s office declined to take part in the hearings this week. Jessie Halladay, a spokesperson for the office, said the cabinet discovered the problem and investigated it and there was no need for prosecutors to get involved, though they supported the cabinet’s motion.

Holton set another hearing for Aug. 11.

Saling, 36, could not be reached for comment. In January, after pleading guilty to his 3rd DUI from 2011, he was sentenced to 120 days in jail, with half of that on home incarceration, and ordered to attend an Alcohol Treatment Program. His license was suspended in September 2011.

In June, Turner asked the judge to order the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to reinstate Saling’s license, saying that at the time he pleaded guilty, he had “virtually completed the program,” according to court records.

Turner said Saling “pre-enrolled” in an alcohol treatment program shortly after his 2011 arrest.

By May, Turner said, Saling had finished the 52 weeks of treatment but the Transportation Cabinet “refused to reinstate” noting that the Health and Family Services Cabinet had “flagged” his license because it was preparing to suspend Shelton, according to court records.

Turner argued the cabinet’s concerns were not a factor in Saling’s case.

Cummings testified that there were no records of Saling attending treatment before January.

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