The attorney representing embattled Union County Judge Executive Jody Jenkins said Thursday his client is ready to defend his reputation and integrity after being indicted by a federal grand jury. In addition to asserting his clients innocence, Jenkins’ attorney, Guthrie True, said his client has no plans on resigning.
On Wednesday, a federal grand jury indicted Jenkins on four counts of honest services fraud stemming from an alleged kickback scheme involving the county’s purchase of heavy equipment that was later determined to be stolen.
“I’m confident that once all the facts come out at trial, Judge Jenkins will be vindicated in this situation,” True said. “We just look forward for the opportunity to be heard in court.”
Eyewitness News has attempted to contact Jenkins directly. However, he has been out of the office Wednesday and Thursday. Jenkins has also not returned calls for comment.
The four count indictment against Jenkins alleges that he devised a scheme to deprive the citizens of the county of their right to honest and faithful services from the office of judge executive. Federal prosecutors allege Jenkins solicited and received approximately $20,000 in kickbacks during the purchase of several pieces of heavy equipment that was later tied to an elaborate theft ring operating out of Vanderburgh County, Indiana.
The equipment was seized by federal agents in December 2014. Union County has not been able to recoup the money spent on the equipment from its insurance provider.
According to the indictment, a series of reportedly incriminating text messages was presented to the grand jury. The text messages were reportedly between Jenkins and one of the theft ring conspirators, Jason Habermel.
Earlier this year at his sentencing hearing, Habermel made damaging and incriminating statements statements against Judge Jenkins. Under oath, Habermel stated Andrew Elpers set a price on the stolen equipment that was to be bought by the Union County Fiscal Court. At Jenkins’ request, the price for each piece of equipment was set at just below $20,000, Habermel said. This was done to avoid triggering the state’s model procurement law which requires government agencies to publicly bid out purchases that exceed $20,000, according to Habermel’s testimony.
The county’s business transactions with Habermel began in early 2014 and abruptly stopped six months later.
Habermel stated that he would take the checks signed by Judge Jenkins and cash them at a Planters Bank location in Union County. From there, Habermel stated he would take anywhere from $500 to $1500 from the proceeds as a ‘brokerage fee.’
Habermel wasn’t the only person taking a cut of the proceeds, according to his testimony.
While under oath, Habermel told the court that Judge Jenkins would ask for a ‘cost of doing business’ in Union County that would be anywhere from $2000 to $2500. Habermel’s attorney later characterized these transactions as ‘kick backs’ for Judge Jenkins.
Even under the shadow of the federal indictment, Jenkins’ attorney said his client will not resign.
“We’re disappointed that the decision was made to bring an indictment in this situation. I think I was certainly hopeful that a different decision would be made,” True said. “Now that the charges have been brought, we really look forward for an opportunity to hear all of the facts concerning these allegations.”
Of the five fiscal court magistrates, only Gary Day and Joe Wells returned calls for comment. Chuck Voss, Jerri Floyd and Joe Clements have not returned repeated calls for comment.
Both Day and Wells said they were surprised by Jenkins’ indictment. The two magistrates said they are waiting on guidance from County Attorney Brucie Moore on how to proceed. Wells described the situation as very disappointing, adding that he has not heard from Jenkins since the indictment was unsealed.
Jenkins also hold some important positions in some local and state organizations, including KACo, the Kentucky Association of Counties. According to the organization’s website, Jenkins is the president-elect of the organization’s executive board.
KACo’s chief executive officer told Eyewitness News that the organization is aware of the allegations against Jenkins but could not comment any further. Jenkins is expected to make his initial appearance in federal court later this month.