By BRUCE SCHREINER | Associated Press
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky's former top wildlife official was charged Monday with a series of ethics code violations, stemming partly from claims that agency employees performed personal work for him while on state time.
The state Executive Branch Ethics Commission filed nine civil charges against Jonathan Gassett, a former commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
Other counts contend that Gassett used his position to obtain Kentucky State Police guest passes to the Kentucky Derby, and that he acquired 15 art prints for free that were among 500 prints to be sold as a fundraiser by the wildlife department, the ethics commission said.
Gassett resigned last September while under investigation. He could face up to $45,000 in fines if he's found to have committed the ethics code violations.
He was among four current or former wildlife agency employees charged Monday with ethics violations.
"These are significant violations of the ethics code by Mr. Gassett and the others, who used their positions for personal gain," said Ethics Commission Executive Director John Steffen.
Gassett did not immediately return phone calls or respond to an email.
The commission claims Gassett abused his position by having wildlife agency employees pump out his home's flooded basement or crawl space, using agency equipment.
Gassett also had agency employees use a department vehicle to pick up building materials in Lexington and deliver the items to the department's woodshop, the commission said. The materials were stored there for weeks before being delivered to Gassett's residence for his personal use, it said.
Gassett also had an agency employee, often while on state time, help repair a dent in Gassett's personal canoe and cut pieces of countertop with agency equipment for Gassett's home, the commission said.
He also allegedly acquired 15 artwork prints for himself without paying for the art, the commission said. The artwork, valued at $35 apiece, was created by a department employee to be sold as an agency fundraiser.
Another count claims Gassett used his influence to obtain state police guest passes to the Kentucky Derby at no charge. The passes gave Gassett access to "multiple levels" of Churchill Downs on Derby Day, the commission said. He used the passes for "personal pleasure" and not as part of his commissioner duties, it said.
He's also accused of using the agency's shipping account for his personal interests, including having the skin of an alligator he killed in Florida delivered to a taxidermist in Georgia, it said.
Gassett left the agency to take a position with the nonprofit Wildlife Management Institute.
Others charged with ethics violations were fish and wildlife deputy commissioner Benjamin Kinman, along with former assistant director Scott King and John Akers, who still works for the agency, the commission said. King resigned from the agency last fall.
The state Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, which oversees the wildlife department, said it was informed of the ethics charges against the four current or former wildlife agency employees.
"These charges will be reviewed by the cabinet and Fish and Wildlife Commission before any other steps are taken," the cabinet said in a statement.
Those charged have 20 days to file responses with the commission. They can seek a hearing before an independent hearing officer, who would submit a recommended order to the ethics commission.
Steffen said he anticipates ethics charges being filed against other wildlife agency officials.