A grand jury indicted Gov. Ernie Fletcher on misdemeanor charges Thursday, accusing him of illegally rewarding political supporters with state jobs since taking office two years ago.
Fletcher was charged with conspiracy, official misconduct and violating a prohibition against political discrimination. A conviction on any of the counts could lead to jail time and Fletcher's removal from office, said Vicki Glass, spokeswoman for the attorney general's office.
Fletcher spokesman Brett Hall said the Republican governor was not surprised by the indictment, given Democratic Atty. Gen. Greg Stumbo's ongoing investigation into the administration's hiring practices.
"This has been a politically motivated, media-driven investigation from the start," Hall said, adding that the governor's staff was reviewing its options "in the wake of this malicious prosecution."
Fletcher said his "conscience is clear" and that the indictment had only increased his "determination to make sure that we continue to work to move this state forward."
For nearly a year, the special grand jury has been investigating whether the Fletcher administration broke state law by basing personnel decisions on political considerations.
Thirteen other current and former administration officials and associates were indicted on misdemeanor counts, and the grand jury handed up another 14 sealed indictments Thursday. Last summer, Fletcher pardoned everyone in his administration other than himself who could be charged in the case, although a legal debate continues over whether a blanket pardon issued before charges are filed is valid.
In addition, the grand jury issued a felony perjury indictment Thursday against Sam Beverage, a former state highway engineer who Fletcher fired in September. The indictment alleges that Beverage made false testimony to the grand jury in August.
Fletcher, the first Republican elected Kentucky governor since 1967, centered his 2003 campaign on a promise to "clean up the mess in Frankfort." His Democratic predecessor, Paul Patton, had been tarnished by a highly publicized extramarital affair.