Patton Charged With Using Rank To Help Mistress

A state ethics commission on Tuesday issued four charges against Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton, including that he did his lover favors "used or attempted to use his official position" to benefit the woman he had an affair with.

Patton, a Democrat, has admitted to the affair with nursing home owner Tina Conner but has vehemently denied misusing his office.

The Executive Branch Ethics Commission, which has only civil jurisdiction, issued the four charges, which are:

Patton intervened to get special state certification for a construction company owned by Conner and her husband at the time, Seth Conner. The commission said it found "probable cause" to believe that Patton helped get the certification as a "disadvantaged business."

Designation as a disadvantaged business entitled the company, ST Construction, to preferential treatment for getting highway construction projects. The Patton administration says no contract actually was awarded.

The commission also alleged that Patton influenced a decision by the state's vehicle-enforcement agency to promote a motor vehicle enforcement officer who was a friend of Conner's

The other two charges say Patton appointed Conner to the lottery board and her husband to the state Agricultural Development Board only because of his sexual relationship with her.

If the charges are upheld, the maximum penalty that Patton could be slapped with would be a $5,000 fine and a public reprimand on each count, said commission Chairman Joseph Helm and general counsel Boyce A. Crocker.

Conner revealed the two-year affair in September. She said that after she broke off their relationship, Patton turned state regulators loose on her nursing home to punish her. Patton denies this.

Conner has since lost the nursing home in bankruptcy proceedings.

Since the scandal became public, Patton and his wife, Judi, have made few public appearances together. Conner and her husband divorced in August.

The next step is for Patton to present his evidence in front of a hearing officer from the attorney general's office. Ethics Board Chairman Joe Helm refused to comment when asked if the charges wrap up its investigation of Patton.

Under the state ethics law, Patton has 20 days to respond to the charges. He can present evidence to a hearing officer who then would make a recommendation to the ethics commission.

Helm and Crocker said the commission functions like a grand jury in issuing charges. It also sits as a judge once a hearing officer has done his work.

Helm said the commission was not prejudging the case, despite its own evidence-gathering. The commissioners "cannot approach the case with any predispositions," Helm said in a news conference.

The governor is also being investigated by the Kentucky Attorney General Ben Chandler and the U.S. attorney.

The ethics commission is an executive branch agency that has no criminal jurisdiction.

A Patton spokesman for Patton said he expected a statement to be released later Tuesday.

The sex scandal has had Republicans chomping at the bit to take over the governor's office. Under law, Patton must leave his post in December. The last time a Republican was elected governor in Kentucky was in 1967.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.