Thursday, July 31, 2003

Tina Connor pleads innocent to mail fraud

Calls Patton affair 'devastating'

By Joe Biesk
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - Gov. Paul Patton's former mistress, Tina Conner, tearfully pleaded innocent to mail fraud Wednesday and said the consequences of their relationship had been "tremendously devastating."

U.S. District Judge Joseph M. Hood scheduled Conner's trial for Oct. 6 and released her on her own recognizance.

Conner said nothing on her way into the building, and she sobbed throughout the arraignment. Afterward, she spoke bitterly of her plight to reporters outside the courthouse.

"I've lost my business and it's been tremendously devastating on my children and my family," Conner said. "And I don't think words can describe what it feels like when your freedom is threatened."

Conner, who still lives in Kentucky, said she is not working. "I'm not employable," she said.

The mail-fraud charge arises from Conner's own statements about how she obtained certification as a "disadvantaged-business enterprise" for a construction company she owned with her former husband, Seth Conner.

The disadvantaged-business program was created to steer federally funded contracts to companies headed by women and minorities. ST Construction was primarily operated by Seth Conner, not his wife, according to the indictment.

Conner was involved in a two-year sexual relationship with Patton, who has admitted to the affair. It has since been disclosed that Patton personally asked officials at the Transportation Cabinet to review ST Construction's application.

Patton insists he never ordered anyone to approve the application and denies he misused his office to help or hurt Conner. Transportation Secretary James Codell has also denied any wrongdoing. Neither has been charged.

Patton spokesman Rusty Cheuvront said the governor was out of town Wednesday and would not have any comment.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Taylor said Conner's possible sentence, if she is convicted, depends on federal sentencing guidelines.

When asked if she thought she was being unfairly prosecuted, Conner said she had no comment. James Green, one of Conner's attorneys, said he did not think her indictment was politically motivated.

"We don't see any politics involved in this situation," Green said. "We thought there might be questions about the lawyer in Louisville who was recently indicted, but he's being prosecuted by an entirely different agency and we don't see any politics."

Conner's former attorney, Fred Radolovich, was indicted on a state perjury charge in an unrelated case last week. The charge arose from his representation of a death-row inmate, James Slaughter, in 1994.

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