LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Gov. Paul Patton predicted Wednesday he would be vindicated as he fights allegations that he unleashed state regulators on a nursing home owned by a woman claiming they had a sexual affair.
With his wife of 25 years standing at his side, Patton denied the allegations by Tina Conner that he rewarded her for the alleged affair and then turned on her when she broke off the relationship.
"In time I expect that the full truth will come out," Patton said at a news conference carried live by Louisville television stations. "I think my conduct has been appropriate."
Patton, a Democrat and chairman of the National Governors Association, calmly fielded questions about the allegations Conner raised in an interview broadcast Tuesday on a Louisville television station.
Patton's wife, Judi, answered more sharply when asked for her response. "I don't think they had all of the facts," she said.
Patton's comments appeared aimed as a pre-emptive strike in anticipation of a lawsuit Conner might file against the governor.
Louisville attorney Fred Radolovich, who represents Conner's nursing home, declined to answer any questions, including whether he is representing Conner individually.
Joining Patton at the news conference were top officials in the Cabinet for Health Services, the agency that regulates nursing homes.
Patton had left the podium when the regulators explained their actions against Birchtree Healthcare, Conner's nursing home in Clinton, in far western Kentucky. The regulators insisted they were never influenced by Patton or anyone from his administration in the actions against Birchtree.
Tina Conner, who was appointed to the state lottery board by Patton in 2000, is co-owner of Birchtree with her ex-husband, Seth Conner. The facility was fined $16,500 by the cabinet after an inspection in December called it dangerously understaffed. The nursing home lost Medicaid and Medicare funding on July 28, and most of its residents were moved out. The nursing home filed last week for bankruptcy protection.
Marcia Morgan, the cabinet secretary, said the cabinet's actions were taken to protect the nursing home's residents. At Patton's request, the cabinet conducted an internal review of how it handled the case, she said.
"Our records show that the cabinet acted responsibly and fairly toward Birchtree Healthcare," Morgan said. "At no time was any improper influence brought to bear on the cabinet's actions, either positively or negatively."
Pamela Murphy, who as the cabinet's inspector general oversees regulation of nursing homes, said the cabinet enforces the law strictly and evenly for all facilities under its jurisdiction.
"Never in my three years as inspector general have I received a telephone call, a directive or a request in any way from Gov. Patton or anyone on his staff to intervene," she said.
Conner made her allegations in an interview aired Tuesday on WHAS-TV in which she claimed having a two-year affair with Patton starting in 1997. She said during that time they met nine or 10 times for sex at a Louisville hotel. She provided receipts from the hotel, the station said.
Pat Simpson, who was chief of Patton's security detail, told The Associated Press that he never spent hours in the hotel parking lot, as Conner claimed, and never saw Patton and Conner together in Louisville.
Simpson said he recognized Conner's picture in a newspaper and recalled seeing her at political events in western Kentucky.
Simpson, who is now commissioner of the Kentucky State Police, said it is not unusual for security personnel to leave while their charges attend private meetings. Simpson said he did not know if Patton ever had any private meetings with Conner.
Neither Tina Conner nor Seth Conner could be reached for comment Wednesday. The couple divorced in August.
Patton on Wednesday did not talk about many of the specifics of the allegations. Asked if he thought he was being blackmailed, he replied, "No, I think it's evidently revenge," but did not elaborate.
Patton said he anticipated that Conner would file a lawsuit against him alleging that he use his influence with state government to reward and then punish her because of the alleged affair.
Patton, a millionaire who earned his fortune as a coal operator in eastern Kentucky, said he had not been approached about a possible settlement and would not entertain any such offers.
"There is no way that I will reward anybody for this kind of a fabrication," he said.
Before speaking about Conner's allegations, Patton appeared before a maternal and child health care conference and was honored for an early childhood initiative that he championed. Patton received two standing ovations from the crowd of several hundred people, most of them women.
Patton said he had discussed the controversy with his wife, as well as his children and other family members. He said he didn't know if the controversy would hurt his political career.
Patton is in his second term and is expected to challenge first-term Republican Sen. Jim Bunning in 2004.
The governor said the controversy would not affect his job as governor.
"It's of great concern to me, obviously, but it will go to the courts and the lawyers, and I'm not going to be personally distracted because of this unfortunate circumstance," Patton said.
Conner said she ended the alleged relationship with Patton in 1999 as she tried to save her marriage. She said the governor continued to call her until October 2001. State inspectors arrived at her facility two months later after receiving a complaint, Morgan said.
The inspection resulted in 163 pages of deficiencies, Morgan said. Two citations issued were the most serious possible, indicating violations that posed an imminent danger to residents.
The nursing home was warned it would lose Medicare and Medicaid funding within six months unless the problems were corrected. Subsequent inspections found problems persisted, including 39 pages of deficiencies uncovered during a June inspection, which led to the cutoff of Medicare and Medicaid, the Cabinet for Health Services said.
Birchtree got a court order in July against the cabinet to avoid being shut down entirely. The nursing home, which had about 55 residents in June, now has about eight people living there, officials said.
In 2000, Birchtree appealed its Medicaid reimbursement rate that was set by the state Department for Medicaid Services. The department later determined that the facility should have been treated as a new provider, and thus was due more than $300,000 for a period from January 1996 to April 1998, the cabinet said.
Conner has been active in Democratic Party circles and served as Hickman County party chairman. She is on the county executive committee in Graves County, where she now lives, according to state party records.
Seth Conner was appointed by Patton to the Kentucky Agriculture Development Board in July 2000.