Saturday, May 8, 2004

Ludlow plea-bargain case over

No indictment after investigation of alleged police deals

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COVINGTON - A months-long investigation into whether a law enforcement official sold plea-bargains to suspected drug dealers ended Friday with a grand jury declining to indict anyone.

Special prosecutor George Moore of Mount Sterling said he was asked in December by the state attorney general to look into the system used to offer plea agreements to people arrested by Ludlow police.

"I plan to report to the attorney general what I have done," said Moore, a former president of the Kentucky Commonwealth's Attorneys Association, "and I don't expect to be sent back up state under the same scope."

He said he was barred by law from speaking about specifics of the case, but that the allegations were thoroughly investigated. The grand jury heard testimony from three witnesses for about five hours, an unusually long time for a Kenton County grand jury to spend on one case.

"It is clear to me this has been a case that had a lot of community interest and concern," Moore said. "You don't have to live here to see this has been a trying case for this community."

The target of the investigation is unclear because grand jury testimony and deliberations are secret.

Kenton Commonwealth's Attorney Bill Crockett confirmed he testified before the grand jury for about 45 minutes. He said he went from the hospital, where his son was undergoing surgery for a sports injury, after he received a call on his mobile phone saying the grand jury wanted to ask him some questions.

Crockett declined to discuss what jurors asked, but said he believes the focus of the investigation was an alleged proposal by Ludlow police to offer plea agreements in exchange for various degrees of cooperation from suspected drug dealers. In some cases, the cooperation involved becoming a confidential source.

He said the investigation has caused a delay in prosecuting about 20 people arrested by Ludlow police on drug charges. Crockett said he has been unwilling to take these cases to trial because he knew defense attorneys would try to use an open investigation to get favorable decisions for their clients.

"I'm relieved it's over," Crockett said. "The community deserved closure on this issue."

Moore said if there were a positive to the investigation, it would be that various agencies in the county had changed certain procedures in light of the allegations.

Ludlow officials said they have made changes.

City Attorney Chris Mehling said the City Council adopted two ordinances in light of allegations their police were taking cash in exchange for favorable plea deals. The first ordinance says no officer can offer a plea agreement. The second said officers are not authorized to seek payment of funds of any type in criminal cases. He said an exception to that ordinance, for example, would be when prosecutors attempt to seize the property of a criminal.

"I'm real pleased with how ... Moore handled this," Mehling said. "All issues have been answered. There is no cloud over Ludlow or the Commonwealth's Attorney Office. The matter is now closed."


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