Editor's Note: This story was updated Saturday at 9:13 a.m. with a letter from Larry Cleveland to Tom Miller and comments from Miller. The story was updated again at 9:52 a.m. with comments from Cleveland.
Franklin County Commonwealth’s Attorney Larry Cleveland plans to drop an attempted bribery case against Franklin County Schools Superintendent Mark Kopp.
In a Thursday letter to Kopp’s lawyer, Thomas Miller of Lexington, the prosecutor said that while Kopp’s alleged comments to Franklin County Sheriff’s Deputy Montey Chappell were “improper,” they “do not amount to a violation" of state bribery laws.
Cleveland wrote that he reviewed grand jury testimony, a recording of a hearing about the case in Franklin County District Court earlier this week, and spoke with County Attorney Rick Sparks and Chappell before deciding to not pursue the case.
"Having done, so I have determined to not take further action with respect to this matter," the prosecutor wrote.
Miller said Saturday morning that he was "unsurprised" about Cleveland's decision to drop the case as it "appeared obvious that the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office did not want to pursue the case in the beginning," a reference to the rare move by a grand jury to send the case to district court.
As someone who has practiced law for over 45 years, Miller said, he's never seen an occasion when a grand jury indicts someone only on a misdemeanor charge. He's seen a few cases where a felony becomes a misdemeanor at the bargaining phase.
Miller said that after reading Chappell's report of a meeting between himself and Kopp, his team concluded that "it could have never been bribery," as Kopp did not offer a pecuniary benefit, or something of value, which is essential to the legal definition of bribery.
Kopp was indicted in September on a misdemeanor charge of attempting to bribe a public official. The case was dismissed without prejudice in Franklin County District Court earlier this week, meaning Cleveland’s office could have taken the case back to a grand jury for consideration of a felony indictment.
Chappell alleged that Kopp pressured the deputy to make an investigation against Bondurant Middle School Principal Whitney Allison go away after Kopp supposedly implied he would not rehire Jeff Abrams, former Frankfort police chief, as the school district's safety coordinator.
The case is intertwined with other charges, one against Allison for failing to report child abuse and two more charges of sexual abuse by former BMS teacher Todd Smith.
Cleveland said Saturday morning that after reviewing the case, he determined that while what Kopp allegedly did was “wrongful, it doesn’t violate the statute.”
As for how the charge became a misdemeanor, Cleveland said that charging something as an “attempt” to commit a crime drops the class of a charge by one class, and in Kopp’s case that happened to turn the case into a misdemeanor. The prosecutor said that it was the first time that he’s seen something like that happen. Cleveland said that he was not in the grand jury session where Kopp's case was heard and he has since listened to the audio.
“I don’t anticipate any further action against Mark Kopp,” Cleveland said.
The commonwealth’s attorney said the cases against Allison and Smith are ongoing. The principal was also indicted on a misdemeanor charge, but Cleveland expects the case to stay in district court.
On Friday evening, Kopp directed The State Journal to Miller and declined to speak about Cleveland’s decision to drop the case.
Sparks told The State Journal on Friday that he spoke with Cleveland about the case “only to the extent that it was that it was coming back” to circuit court, and that was shortly after the pretrial conference on Tuesday. The county attorney said that he also noted that the case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning Cleveland’s office could have decided to bring it to a grand jury again in the future.
FCS Board Chair Natalie Lile said on Friday night that she thought Cleveland’s decision was the “right” one.
“As the chair of the school board, I am happy that we can move forward without this hanging over the school system,” she told The State Journal.
Lile said that she thinks Kopp “is doing an amazing job” for the students in the school system and said that while the case hasn’t affected the school system, it has personally affected Kopp, Allison and their families.
“I know that he cares for children and cares for all of the students in our school system and he would never do anything to harm any of them,” Lile said of Kopp.