OCTOBER 15, 2023 – written by WADE QUEEN
FORMER SHERIFF OF GREENUP COUNTY FOR 22 YEARS KEEITH COOPER, NOW NO-CONTEST PLEADING AND IS HEADING TO FEDERAL PRISON FOR UP TO YEAR FOR MISAPPROPRIATING HIS OFFICES’ UNDERCOVER DRUG FUNDS.
A former Kentucky sheriff accused of stealing money from a fund for undercover drug purchases was sentenced Friday to 13 months in federal prison.
Keith Cooper, the former sheriff in Greenup County, was in jail for about three months after he was federally indicted in January 2022. That will count against his sentence, leaving about 10 months.
U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove also fined Keith Cooper $10,000.
In addition, Keith Cooper has agreed to pay $60,000 in restitution. That does not count the value of about $29,000 worth of ammunition Cooper allegedly kept after leaving office. Van Tatenhove will decide later on the total amount of restitution Cooper owes.
Keith Cooper, who is now 70 years old, was sheriff of Greenup County from 1996 until the end of 2018, when he retired in the middle of his sixth elected term; and he had also served two decades as a Kentucky State Police officer before that, according to federal court records.
A federal grand jury in January 2022 charged that Keith Cooper stole more than $58,000 while he was sheriff; kept ammunition bought with taxpayer money; and used his official vehicle and credit card for personal trips out of state.
The account involved in the charges was one where the sheriff’s office deposited money seized in investigations, such as cash taken from a drug dealer. The money was to be used for law enforcement activities, such as drug buys.
In addition to the accusation that Keith Cooper took money from the account, he also allegedly skimmed money seized during investigations without depositing it into the account.
A state audit spotted a problem, which led to an investigation by the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office and ultimately the FBI, according to a court document.
Keith Cooper pleaded no contest to one charge of mail fraud, for allegedly mailing a false report to the attorney general’s office, and a charge of misappropriation of funds.
A no-contest plea means a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges there is sufficient evidence for a conviction. The effect is the same as pleading guilty.
Keith Cooper has steadfastly maintained that he did not steal any money, said his attorney, Edward Lee Metzger III.
However, the retired sheriff decided to enter a plea because he kept such poor records he couldn’t account for all the money he was responsible for, or prove he spent it all legitimately, his attorney Edward Metzger said.
The records at issue in the case included reports on drug buys that Keith Cooper said he made while doing undercover work alone.
After authorities began investigating, Keith Cooper had a deputy draw up reports on 11 cases, showing how he had spent money on investigations, and mail them to the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office.
The investigations were real, but again, Keith Cooper didn’t have the records to show that, attorney Metzger said.
However, the prosecutor in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew T. Boone, said in a sentencing memorandum that Keith Cooper produced fake reports to try to head off the investigation he faced.
Matt Easter, a detective for the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office, testified the reports Keith Cooper provided did not include information that would be standard in identical types of cases.
Detective Easter said he found no indication any of the cases resulted in referrals for prosecution and didn’t find any drugs logged into evidence related to any of the cases.
“I would say that those were fraudulent reports,” Detective Matt Easter said of the documents Keith Cooper mailed to the state.
U.S. Attorney Andrew Boone, the case prosecutor, said Keith Cooper stole money intended for use in drug investigations, used the sheriff’s office as his personal ammunition supply and spent public money on his personal travel.
“Cooper’s crimes reflect stunning abuses of his authority and the public’s trust in him,” the memo said.
Keith Cooper faced 18 to 24 months in federal prison under advisory federal guidelines.
Judge Van Tatenhove did however give credit to Keith Cooper for his “exemplary public service” as a longtime police officer in deciding on a sentence under the advisory range.