Conn pleads guilty to misdemeanor campaign violation

Ralph B. Davis rdavis@civitasmedia.com

September 17, 2013

FRANKFORT — Social Security attorney Eric C. Conn pleaded guilty Friday, in Franklin Circuit Court, to a misdemeanor charge of attempting to recruit a straw donor to contribute to a Supreme Court candidate.

Conn pleaded guilty before Circuit Judge Thomas Dawson Wingate to an amended charge of “criminal attempt to make a gift of money to another person to contribute to a donor on his behalf,” which is a Class A misdemeanor. Under the deal reached with prosecutors from Attorney General Jack Conway’s office, Conn received a suspended sentence of 12 months in jail, which will be conditionally dishcharged for a period of two years. He was also ordered to pay $5,600 to reimburse the AG’s office for its investigative costs.

“I pled guilty to an attempted misdemeanor arising out of a contribution to a recent election campaign,” Conn said in a statement released by his office Tuesday afternoon. “I agreed to pay restitution for the costs of the investigation. My cooperation through counsel in assisting in this matter and resolving this matter has been acknowledged. I deeply regret this mistake, I apologize unreservedly.”

According to an offer from the Attorney General’s Office, which bears Conn’s signature on the defendant line, Conn admitted that, “On February 8-9, 2013, the defendant attempted to make a gift of money to another person to contribute to a candidate for the Kentucky Supreme Court on his behalf.”

According to an information filed Sept. 9, prosecutors originally accused Conn of actually making the gift, in Franklin County, sometime between Feb. 8 and 9. While the original charge was a felony, the amended charge of attempting to make the gift is a misdemeanor.

Neither the information nor prosecutor’s offer names to which Supreme Court candidate Conn attempted to contribute, but Allison Martin, with the AG’s office, confirmed that the case involved an attempt to donate to Justice Will T. Scott’s campaign. She further noted that Justice Scott was not implicated and that he returned the contributions.

Election finance reports show Conn making a $1,000 contribution in his own name to Scott’s campaign on Feb. 16, 2012. That contribution was returned March 28, 2012.

Sarah Jackson, executive director of the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, said she could not comment on the case, but did acknowledge that her office cooperated with the AG’s office during the investigation.

When contacted, Scott said it would not be appropriate for him to comment on the matter.

The attempted violation would have taken place during Scott’s 2012 re-election campaign, during which he ran against former Supreme Court Justice and Appeals Court Judge Janet Stumbo.

On Tuesday, Ned Pillersdorf, Stumbo’s husband and the manager of her campaign, said he is disappointed that he and Stumbo did not learn of the case until after it was already over.

“This is contrary, in my view, to the Kentucky crime victims bill of rights, which requires victim notification as to proposed plea offers,” Pillersdorf said. “We would not have consented to this lenient plea agreement, given the extensive planning involved, number of participants, and the fact Conn as a lawyer should be have a greater appreciation of the legal significance of his crime.”