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Freeman files criminal complaint over payment

BY CORIANNE EGANcegan@paducahsun.com

County Commissioner Ronnie Freeman filed a criminal complaint Saturday over a county payment to former McCracken County Emergency Services Director Paul Carter in December, and also disclosed an ongoing police investigation of an alleged effort to blackmail County Commissioner Jerry Beyer in connection with Carter's departure.

The information is contained in a formal complaint and a sheriff's report obtained by the Sun on Saturday afternoon under the Kentucky Open Records Law.

Freeman filed the formal complaint with the McCracken County Sheriff's Department on Saturday morning regarding a $31,758.73 check that was paid to Carter for comp time that he had accrued over his time as Department of Emergency Services director. Carter was suspended last summer after a video surfaced of him and another man in a scuffle on the side of Interstate 24 during an accident clean-up. He later resigned, and requested payouts for his vacation and sick days as well as 1,521 hours of overtime.

The fiscal court had tentatively approved the payment, contingent on a review by County Attorney Mike Murphy as to whether the county could legally pay such benefits. At the county's Dec. 16 Fiscal Court meeting, Freeman asked Murphy to look into the state law that puts a cap on comp time hours, and asked for documentation of Carter's comp time claims.

Those conditions were placed in an ordinance that was unanimously approved, pending the documents being seen and approved by commissioners.

Freeman said the check was cut to Carter on Dec. 18 by McCracken County Treasurer Angie Brown and signed by McCracken County Judge-Executive Van Newberry. Carter cashed the check Dec. 19. An email with the requested documentation was sent out Dec. 20, after the check had been issued. Freeman said he wasn't able to open the email at that time, and was surprised to learn the check had been cut before the documentation could be reviewed by commissioners.

"The only thing that I can say is that I felt that this was not the right thing to be done, for the simple reason that this court had not approved the writing of the check," Freeman said. "We must be in session before we approve any documentation that was given. We had not received the requested documentation and the check had already been written and cashed."

Freeman asked Sheriff Jon Hayden for an investigation. Citing conflicts of interest, Hayden said he passed the complaint on to the Kentucky Attorney General's office. He called the allegations "concerning," and said it warrants a thorough investigation.

Freeman's complaint comes on the heels of the indictment earlier this month of Newberry and Deputy Judge-Executive Doug Harnice on felony records-tampering charges. That indictment stems from allegations the two changed county zoning maps without going through legally required public proceedings.

Freeman said in addition to the lack of fiscal court approval, he is uncomfortable paying Carter at this time because Carter is under investigation for allegedly trying to blackmail County Commissioner Jerry Beyer. A separate document - a letter sent from Hayden to the Kentucky State Police in October - asks for the KSP to investigate an email that was sent from Carter to Beyer. The content of the email was redacted from the document. Hayden cited the open KSP investigation.

Beyer declined to comment on the situation. He did, however, say he did not believe there was any wrongdoing in regard to the recent payment to Carter. Beyer also added that the information about Carter's email investigation was brought up in one of the fiscal court's executive sessions and was meant to be confidential.

Calls to Carter's lawyer, Jeremy Ian Smith, were not returned.

Newberry said it was also his understanding that the documentation would have to be reviewed, but that it was up to Murphy to approve the payment, which he did. Newberry called the need to see documentation micromanaging, and noted that Freeman voted for the ordinance.

"If he didn't want to pay it, if he didn't want to vote yes, he should have gotten a backbone," Newberry said.

Contact Corianne Egan, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8652 or follow @CoriEgan on Twitter.

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