Records detail campaign violation

Ralph B. Davis rdavis@civitasmedia.com

October 8, 2013

Stanville attorney Eric C. Conn attempted to improperly donate $10,000 to Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott’s campaign last year, by funneling the money through straw contributions from nine of his employees, according to investigative records obtained this week by The Floyd County Times.

Last month, Conn pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of attempting to recruit a straw donor to contribute to a Supreme Court candidate. 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 discharged for a period of two years. He was also ordered to pay $5,600 to reimburse the AG’s office for its investigative costs.

However, records of interviews conducted by investigator Greg Motley indicate the scheme included more than one donor.

Motley interviewed several current and former Conn Law Office employees during the course of his investigation, as well as Justice Scott. The interviews paint a picture of Conn order the purchase of 10 $1,000 money orders, filling out one for himself to contribute to Scott’s campaign, and contributing the other nine in the names of employees working at his firm at the time. In some cases, the employees told Motley that they filled out the money orders and donation envelopes, but other employees said they never saw the money orders until Scott’s campaign returned them.

State law limits the amount a person can contribute to a candidate for state office to $1,000 per election.

The investigation apparently began after Ashley Nicole Sparks, a former Conn Law Office employee, tipped investigators to the scheme. In an interview on March 23, 2012, Sparks denied making a contribution to Scott’s campaign, but said she was aware that another employee, Kia Hampton, had been tasked with finding 8-to-10 employees to make contributions in their names with Conn’s money.

“She said that she never saw the $1,000 and that the only person she discussed it with was Kia Hampton,” Motley wrote in his investigative report. “Ashley said that she didn’t see the money order until it came to her in the mail. She said that it appeared to be Kia’s handwriting on the money order. Ashley still has the original money order and has not cashed it.”

The same day, Motley also interviewed Justice Scott. In his interview, Scott said that he had visited Conn’s office to discuss Conn supporting him in his campaign for re-election.

“Scott said that he was approached by Kia Hampton on one visit and she tried to give him several envelopes with donations,” Motley wrote in his report. “He told her that they needed to be mailed to his campaign office. Scott said that they received the donations and they were all for $1,000. He said that they didn’t accept money orders and didn’t feel that the donations were reasonable for Conn’s employees to make. He said that his campaign mailed them back to the individual addresses with a note explaining why they could not be accepted.

“He said that he had kept Conn’s donation, but was thinking he was going to return it as well,” Motley wrote.

Five days after the interview, Scott’s campaign refunded Conn’s donation.

Copies of letters sent to the employees along with their returned donations are also included in the file. The letters indicate, “The Campaign Committee has determined, in employer/employee scenarios, the campaign may only accept personal contributions in money order form from the employer. Employees’ contributions must be by personal check. Thus, we have returned your money order.”

The letters conclude with an invitation for the employees to attend a reception at the Landmark Inn on March 2, 2012.

Motley also interviewed Melinda Martin (now Hicks), another former Conn employee. Hicks described one of Scott’s visits to Conn’s office.

“Martin said that she took Scott to Conn’s office and that she, David Hicks, John E. Hunt and Conn met with him,” Motley wrote in his report. “She said at one point in the meeting, Conn asked all of them to leave so he could talk with Justice Scott alone.”

After that meeting, Hicks said Conn told her he was going to give an “unofficial bonus” to employees who would use the money to donate to Scott’s campaign. She then accompanied Conn to the bank to get the money for the money orders.

“She said Conn had a safety deposit box at Citizens National Bank in Prestonsburg that he kept at least $250,000 in,” Motley wrote in his report. “She said that she went with Conn and he got the cash for the money orders. She said that she thought he took out $20,000, but wasn’t sure about the exact amount. She said that she is pretty sure that all the cash is out of the safety deposit box now.”

Hicks said she never filled out a money order for the contribution and had no $1,000 withdrawals from her checking account when the donation was made. Furthermore, she said she was not registered to vote and did not know what office Scott was seeking.

David Hicks, an attorney at Conn’s firm, told Motley that said Conn instructed him to deposit his money order and donate it to Scott, after the money orders were returned. He then said Conn told him to get another $1,000 from the firm and donate that to Scott in his wife’s name.

“Hicks said that he got the money from Jamie Slone,” Motley wrote in his report. “Hicks said that he took the money, but didn’t make the contributions. He said that he told Conn he had decided not to do it and Conn told him to just keep the money as advance on his expenses.”

Other employees told Motley they were told they could keep the money as bonuses when the money orders were returned.

Kia Hampton, who was 2011 Miss Kentucky, told Motley she was hired by Conn after he contacted her about shooting a commercial for his business. She said Conn offered to pay her $70,000 a year, provide her with a car and allow her to stay in his guest house to be his public relations director. He duties, after she was hired, consisted of doing commercials and hiring young women as “Conn Girls” to do public appearances for the firm.

Hampton provided Motley with additional details about the scheme.

“Hampton said that Conn told her that he wanted to donate $10,000 to Scott’s campaign,” Motley wrote. “She said this occurred around the first week of February.”

Hampton said she given money to purchase eight money orders from the Betsy Layne Post Office one day, and the following day was told to go back and purchase two more. One of the money orders was sent to the Scott campaign in Hampton’s name.

“She said that she had never met Will T. Scott prior to their meeting at Conn’s office,” Motley wrote. “She said that she did not even know what Scott was running for. She said that she did not use her own money to purchase the money orders.”

The file does not include any statements from Conn. The Floyd County Times reached out to Conn’s office for comment on the case, but did not receive a response.