Jody Jenkins earns a yearly salary of more than $80,000 as the elected judge executive of Union County. Now, he’s alleged to have defrauded the very people who put him into office. A federal grand jury in Bowling Green indicted Jenkins Wednesday morning on four counts of honest services fraud, a statute that is typically applied to those accused of public corruption.
The four count indictment alleges Jenkins devised a scheme to deprive the citizens of the county of their right to honest and faithful services of 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.
The theft ring targeted heavy equipment like skid steers and mini-excavators across three states. Four men, Thomas Elpers, Andrew Elpers, Jordan Wedel and Jason Habermel, were all all federally indicted for their roles in the theft ring. All four men have pleaded guilty and are currently serving their sentences.
According to the now-public indictment, Jenkins took steps to hide, conceal and cover-up his actions, including directing that false and fraudulent invoices be submitted.
Eyewitness News has been investigating the county’s purchase of the stolen equipment since early 2015.
According to purchasing records obtained by Eyewitness News, the Union County Fiscal Court purchased several pieces of equipment later tied to the theft ring, totaling more than $100,000. That equipment was seized by the FBI in late 2014.
As Eyewitness News has previously reported, the equipment the county purchased had numerous red flags including altered serial numbers. The equipment was also purchased for significantly below market value, sometimes more than $40,000 less than it would normally sell for.
Judge Jenkins previously told Eyewitness News that the equipment was purchased in good faith.
One of the four men indicted as part of the theft ring, 45-year-old Jason Habermel, made damaging statements against Judge Jenkins during his sentencing hearing earlier this year.
Under oath, Habermel stated Andrew Elpers set a price on the stolen equipment that was to be bought by the Union County Fiscal Court. The price was set at just below $20,000 at Judge Jenkins’ direction, 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. Habermel would also implicate Union County Clerk Trey Peak and local businessman Steve Eckels. As Eyewitness News has previously reported, Eckels has often received preferential treatment in terms of being awarded county contracts.
“I would pay Mr. Eckels, Jody Jenkins’ friend,” Habermel testified. “He would also receive monetary compensation for doing business in Union County as well as Trey Peak who is a county official as well. That was brought forth to me by them, saying that, ‘if we’re going to do business with you (Habermel), this is just the cost of business.”
Jenkins was not at his office when Eyewitness News tried to reach him for comment. A fiscal court staff member told Eyewitness News that Jenkins had not returned from an early morning appointment. Additionally, Jenkins did not return calls requesting comment.
Law enforcement sources said Jenkins has retained an attorney. However, the identity of Jenkins’ attorney is unknown.
Jenkins will make his initial appearance in federal court later this month. If convicted, Jenkins could be sentenced to no less than 20 years in prison for each count, fined $1 million and serve a three year period of supervised release. Jenkins can remain as judge executive through the duration of his criminal case, according to state law. Jenkins can only be removed from office if he’s convicted of a felony.
Click here for the official release from the US Attorney’s Office.