The Year In Investigations

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Animal shelters in disarray. Hypocrisy in immigration enforcement policy. White nationalism on the rise. A “Long Con” and an escaped Conn.

It’s been a busy year at the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Here are some of our biggest investigations of 2017.

How A Kentucky Rape Case Is Testing The Integrity Of The Criminal Justice System

Car fires. Threatening graffiti. Menacing messages.

When a grand jury indicted powerful western Kentucky businessman Billy Joe Miles on a charge of rape, the barrage of terrifying incidents began.

KyCIR found that Miles’ influence extended to the sheriff’s office that investigated the alleged victim’s claims. Daviess County Sheriff Keith Cain’s office handled the investigation of Miles, even though the two men are friends. And the sheriff took steps that threatened to undermine the prosecution even as the alleged victim reported serious threats, vandalism — and a hammer thrown into the windshield of her moving car.

Miles is scheduled to stand trial in January. 

Kentucky Shelters: Falling Short, Failing Animals

A dog inside the Spencer County Animal Shelter.

KyCIR’s R.G. Dunlop visited a number of county-run animal shelters that fell far short of the state’s standards.

In collaboration with WAVE 3 News, we found that Kentucky’s animal shelter system is infused with state and local politics, riven by the agendas of competing interest groups, and undermined by a lack of funding and a woefully weak animal welfare law.

Our investigation noted that amid an absence in government oversight, change largely has been spurred by the intervention of private citizens. We identified ways for you to help, too. 

Neo-Nazis In The Neighborhood

As white nationalism grows nationwide, one group has its sights set on southern Indiana, Kentucky, and Appalachia. KyCIR’s Eleanor Klibanoff got an exclusive look into the Traditionalist Worker Party’s recruitment playbook, and spoke to experts about what makes this region ripe for white supremacy action. 

We also reported on people standing up to hate groups in their community, like the residents of Paoli, Indiana who are speaking out against the Traditionalist Worker Party.

Louisville Police Don’t Enforce Immigration – But Help The Feds Do It

KyCIR’s Kate Howard found that Louisville Metro Police helped immigration agents enforce federal law when asked, a practice that ran counter to statements from city leaders and in contrast to the “compassionate city” image they project.

In the wake of our reporting, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer promised a review of LMPD policy and the city adopted an ordinance that prohibits city employees from questioning people about their immigration status.

Ongoing Shenanigans At The University Of Louisville

J. Tyler Franklin / KyCIR

University of Louisville

The questions posed by major changes in leadership and a host of investigations last year brought some answers in 2017 — along with a bunch of new problems.

Early in the year, with two major audits underway, KyCIR found that longtime administrators were making a run on the bank to cash in deferred compensation from a generous plan that was abandoned months later.

A long-awaited forensic investigation released in June revealed a picture of excessive and often secret spending on investments, real estate and lavish pay that left the school’s endowment depleted. But as costs ballooned on the audit itself, the university sidestepped a state law meant to ensure transparency of its spending.

Trouble was also brewing this year in athletics. Even as U of L men’s basketball fought against NCAA penalties for its sex and stripper scandal, a much bigger scandal emerged: a pay-to-play scheme that rocked the college basketball world and led to the firings of coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

In a bit of welcome news at the university, a challenge to U of L’s accreditation was resolved. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools this month removed U of L from probation.

Eric Conn’s Latest Trick: Turning Flight Risk Into Reality

How was Eric Conn, a man who pleaded guilty to defrauding the Social Security Administration of $550 million, able to just skip town? For white-collar criminals, being let out on bond is common. Taking that opportunity to escape is extremely rare, KyCIR found.

Six months to the day after he escaped, the FBI captured Conn in a Pizza Hut in Honduras. He was extradited to Kentucky, and this time, the feds won’t be so lenient with house arrest.

 

The Pope’s Long Con

J. Tyler Franklin / KyCIR

Rep. Dan Johnson held a press conference on Dec. 12, 2017.

In a five-part investigation the Republican Party of Kentucky called “extensively sourced and documented,” KyCIR’s R.G. Dunlop and Jacob Ryan looked at the lies and deception that swirled around state Rep. Dan Johnson, a Republican from Mt. Washington.

The story and podcast revealed misdeeds ranging from a fake degree to accusations of arson to an allegation of sexual assault of a teenager in the basement of Johnson’s Fern Creek church.

On the Monday the story was released, both parties and House leadership called for Johnson’s resignation. On Tuesday, Johnson vehemently denied all the allegations in the story.

On Wednesday, Johnson died by suicide in Bullitt County.

His wife, Rebecca Johnson, has declared her intention to run for his seat in the special election in February.