19 ethics charges at Fish and Wildlife, from free fish and Derby passes to harassment

Former head, staff accused of misusing agency resources

By Kevin Wheatley, Published:

The former head of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and three employees face 19 potential ethics violations, from misusing agency resources, getting Kentucky Derby guest passes from the Kentucky State Police and creating a sexually charged work environment.

The Executive Branch Ethics Commission Monday formally charged former Commissioner Jonathan Gassett; Deputy Commissioner Benjy Kinman; Scott King, former budget director; and John Akers, former maintenance shop supervisor.

Many of the charges levied were detailed in a December inspector general’s report commissioned by the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, but new details emerged from the ethics probe.

Gassett, who resigned in September and is now a southeastern field representative for the Wildlife Management Institute, is accused of using his relationship with the Kentucky State Police to obtain free guest passes to the Kentucky Derby in 2011 and 2012.

He also allegedly did not pay for 15 prints of artwork, valued at $35 apiece, that were to be sold for fundraising in 2009 and directed an employee to leave work during regular hours to inspect a home Gassett intended to buy, which caused the worker to miss a meeting and use personal leave time without compensation from Gassett.

Luke Morgan, a Lexington attorney representing Gassett, said his client met with the Executive Branch Ethics Commission earlier this month, providing the panel with documents and answers to myriad questions.

“They (the ethics commission) haven’t given us any document to support these claims, so that’s what we’ll be looking forward to reviewing,” Morgan told The State Journal in a phone interview.

Gassett and others charged by the commission have 20 days to respond before making their cases in front of a hearing officer, unless a settlement is reached. The ethics commission can levy fines up to $5,000 per violation. Final decisions can be appealed to Franklin Circuit Court.

John Steffen, executive director of the Executive Branch Ethics Commission, said he expects additional information will become public at the panel’s meeting March 21.

In all, Gassett faces nine ethics charges. Others previously covered in the inspector’s general report include: 

>Having Fish and Wildlife employees pump a flooded crawlspace on state time and with agency equipment at his home after a pipe burst between late 2009 and early 2010 

>Having workers pick up building materials for his personal benefit in a department vehicle and storing the materials at the agency’s woodshop before they were delivered to his home weeks later

>Having his canoe repaired and pieces of countertop cut by Akers at the department’s woodshop between 2006 and 2011 

>Allowing the vendor supplying Kenwood radios to the department to attend a meeting where Fish and Wildlife officials and KSP discussed switching to a Motorola radio system used by state police.

King, the former budget director who resigned in October to close a workplace harassment investigation by the cabinet, fostered a “oppressive and hostile atmosphere” from 2009 to 2013 by suggesting that female subordinates wear short skirts and high heels to meetings and, in one instance, telling a worker to show him her breasts to get favorable treatment, according to the ethics commission’s charges.

He also allegedly used one of the agency’s tractors, which had been purchased with federal funds, for his personal benefit from 2010 to 2012.

Kinman, the deputy commissioner who had been named acting commissioner by Gassett before the cabinet intervened and instead placed deputy secretary Matt Sawyers in charge, faces allegations of sending department employees to pump Gassett’s crawlspace. 

He also had free fish from the department’s hatchery delivered to Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Christopher Godby’s Somerset pond in spring 2013 and personally delivered free fish to Godby’s friend’s Lawrenceburg pond in fall 2012 and spring 2013, according to the ethics commission’s charges.

Akers, the former maintenance shop supervisor is accused of using the department’s woodshop from 2007-2011 to store, build and repair personal items.

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  • Not surprised one bit.

  • That is what I have been trying to tell you and more...fishinchick.