It’s not easy being Green

Allegations of wrongdoing, unethical behavior and financial mismanagement mount against Councilwoman Judy Green

When the Louisville Arena Authority invited the Metro Council to the KFC Yum! Center’s inaugural gala, each member received two complimentary tickets, worth $100 a piece. Councilwoman Judy Green, it turns out, ended up with an extra pair.

Just days before the Oct. 14 celebration, a representative from the District 1 councilwoman’s office told the Kentucky State Fair Board that Green had not received the original passes and two additional tickets were issued, according to documents obtained from the fair board. That night, she and her husband, James Green, spruced up and enjoyed the soiree.

Following the event, arena officials complained to Democratic caucus staff upon learning Green’s legislative aide, Andrea Jackson, also attended, nabbing a pricey gift basket intended for council members. Asked if she used the original tickets that were reportedly lost, Green’s assistant at first denied being at the gala. When informed that pictures on the Yum! Center’s Facebook page show her sitting with the Greens at the event, she pleaded ignorance.

“I don’t remember attending,” she tells LEO Weekly. “I don’t remember getting tickets either … I wasn’t with Councilwoman Green and her husband at the gala … I’ll have to call you back.”

A few hours later, Democratic caucus spokesman Tony Hyatt contacted LEO with an explanation: Jackson got two tickets from Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh, D-9, who was unable to attend. After Green reportedly told fellow Democrats she had lost her tickets, Ward-Pugh says she gave away her set, unaware that the Arena Authority had reimbursed Green with two new ones.

When asked how Green’s aide could have possibly forgotten whether she even attended the gala, Hyatt says: “All I’m saying is, it is very rare that a staff assistant talks to the media. I’m not trying to say she wouldn’t remember, but Andrea does her best, and she has a tendency to be a little scatter-brained.”

And so it goes in the office of Councilwoman Green, who is facing increasing scrutiny from fellow council members, constituents, the media and even law enforcement due to a series of snafus and apparent ethical lapses that have plagued her council tenure. The most highly publicized controversy stems from Green’s jobs-for-youth summer program, which was marred by poor bookkeeping, mismanagement and nepotism, leading to a Metro Ethics Commission investigation. A hearing later this month will delve further into the charges of misconduct and could result in Green becoming the first Metro Council member removed from office.

Beyond the ethics inquiry, police launched an investigation, during which the councilwoman’s own aides accused her of an array of sordid deeds that range from accepting a bribe and to taking out a credit card in someone else’s name, according to hundreds of pages of documents obtained from Louisville Metro Police. Although police found the “appearance that criminal activity could have been taking place” — they even urged one of her aides to file charges — investigators determined there was insufficient evidence to pursue a criminal case.

From the start, the Green Clean Team was pitched as a program to provide work experience for youth with limited employment opportunities.

In 2009, Councilwoman Green approached Eddie Woods, founder of the LIFE Institute and an anti-gang activist known for working with at-risk youth. “The councilwoman wanted to know whether or not we would be the physical agent for the Green Clean Team,” he says. “It appeared legitimate at the time.”

The relationship was problematic from the beginning: In the first few weeks, LIFE had to dip into its own coffers to pay the children. Woods says Green made it clear his organization was only expected to advise on programming while she and her husband would run its day-to-day operations.

“We were getting zero paperwork from her office and had no say-so. We were basically being told to write the checks,” Woods says. “She told us James Green would be the supervisor, and we were to pay him in cash.”

During the course of this story, LEO left several messages for Green, who failed to respond.

Last summer, wages owed to the 140 youth participants were delayed for several months due to an investigation by the city auditor, who was unable to document expenditures from the $55,000 grant Green had secured for the program. Ultimately, the auditor released a scathing report revealing 12 of Green’s family members worked in the program and collected $3,580.

The report also noted that $28,270 of the initial grant was unaccounted for due to poor bookkeeping. In conclusion, the audit scolded Green for overlooking the possible conflict of interest in hiring relatives and recommended she request an opinion from the ethics commission. The councilwoman still has not done that, according to city records.

In response, Green has disputed the findings, blamed the LIFE Institute for mismanagement, and indicated she will go forward with the program again this summer despite criticism.

“I did not run the Green Clean Team,” she told Fox-41 in an interview last December. “It was run by LIFE Institute.”

But the city audit and a subsequent police investigation concluded that although the LIFE Institute was supposed to be in charge, Green and her husband administered the program. The councilwoman’s former legislative aide also confirms that the Greens ran the operation.

“The system is screwed up,” says Melody Hill, who resigned as Green’s aide last September after being interviewed by police. “What I regret is proper checks and balances not being in place and not being followed. Perhaps the money shouldn’t have been approved.”

The Jefferson County Attorney’s Office sent a letter to LIFE Institute attempting to recoup the money, but Woods says once the audit report was released, the city backed off. A spokesman for the county attorney confirms the search for the money is ongoing.

“We’re not going to pay back some money when we know we didn’t run the program. We had no say over who got paid or anything else,” Woods says. “We were just told how much to cut the checks for and who to cut if for. And about 18 times — if not more — my name was forged on receipts.”

Since the fallout, Woods says several council members have encouraged him to file an ethics complaint against Green, who already is being investigated by the ethics panel due to a complaint filed by a former political rival.

When the city audit results were forwarded to the Louisville Metro Police Department’s Public Integrity Unit in August, police launched an investigation, questioning several people involved with the Green Clean Team.

No charges were filed against Councilwoman Green, but an investigative summary stated there was the “appearance that criminal activity could have been taking place” and slammed its operation as “extremely unethical” and “unprofessional.”

The 554-page investigative file includes other allegations of misconduct, in addition to highlighting Green’s personal financial troubles, which have lingered since she first applied for the council six years ago.

On Sept. 7, Public Integrity Unit officers Sgt. Oscar Grass and Jamie Hill interviewed Green’s legislative aide, Andrea Jackson, about the Green Clean Team. Specifically, they asked her about an anonymous complaint they received suggesting Green took out a credit card in Jackson’s name without her consent.

“I don’t know if you know Council-woman Green’s personal life or finances that well. She and her husband, James, could possibly be having some financial difficulties,” Sgt. Grass said during the interview. “But we were told that at one time you became aware that Councilwoman Green has gotten some kind of Visa card or a bank card in your name. Is that the case?”

“Yeah,” Jackson told police.

“Is that something you authorized her to do?” Grass asked.

“No,” she replied.

According to police documents, Jackson had given money to James Green and was a silent partner in his automotive business called Green Auto Sales. However, she told police she did not know about the credit card until she found it on the councilwoman’s desk while straightening up the office.

“It’s a concern,” Jackson said. “It’s a big concern.”

The card had accumulated a balance of approximately $25,000 with interest, she told police. Asked why she hadn’t gone to the authorities with this information, Jackson told investigators that the Greens “were no good in jail,” where they would be unable to repay the debt.

“I got to tell you there’s some fishy things going on here,” Sgt. Hill said. “If somebody opened up a credit card in my name, I’d go through the roof. You’re handling this pretty well. That’s a lot of money.”

During the interview, both officers suggested Jackson file a report. And while she did cooperate with police in providing two cut-up credit cards she alleged were obtained by the Greens without her consent, Jackson never filed a complaint and still works in Green’s office.

According to Louisville Metro Police spokeswoman Alicia Smiley, the councilwoman refused to talk with investigators.

“Actions investigated seem to fall within the extremely unethical and unprofessional realm as well as lack of quality and supportive original documentation,” the police investigation concluded. “There does not appear to be enough supportive evidence to prove the intent or move forward with any criminal charges.”

On Nov. 22, the case was closed.

Police also interviewed Green’s former legislative assistant, Melody Hill, who tells LEO her departure had nothing to do with the police investigation.

“As per our conversation on Sept. 17, I am resigning from the position as the District 1 office legislative assistant,” she wrote in a Sept. 21 e-mail to Green.

According to police records, Sept. 17 was the same day Hill told investigators Green had called and was “irate,” insinuating that Hill had leaked information to launch the police probe. During that conversation, Green reportedly sought information about what police had asked in an effort to learn more about the investigation.

During her police interview, Hill accused Green of taking a political bribe from a west Louisville liquor store owner a month before the primary election.

Last April, residents in Green’s district were debating a proposed wet-dry vote in a section of the Parkland neighborhood, where alcohol sales had long been prohibited. According to Hill, the councilwoman was initially against more liquor stores, adding that Green petitioned state officials to deny a license request filed by Ghassan Omari, owner of Lorie’s Liquors in her district.

After a visit to Lorie’s Liquors, however, Green’s stance changed, according to the police file.

“She came back, she said that he’s going to apply again, and she’s not going to block it, and the only thing he wants to sell is beer,” Hill told police. “And, in her words, ‘Yes, I took $600 from him. Gus gave me $600.’ I never saw her take it, but those were her words.”

Legislative aide Andrea Jackson — who accompanied Green to the liquor store that day — echoed that account, telling police that the councilwoman said she received cash from the storeowner.

On Aug. 26, police questioned Omari, who denied giving money to Green.

“I mean, Judy has a good heart and she wants everything done, but it’s like by any means necessary,” Hill told police. “You know, she doesn’t stick to the rules, and that’s why we fight so much and why I’m damn near in a nervous breakdown … I don’t have any recourse around to say, ‘Will somebody stop her?’ You know, it’s like whatever Metro Council people want, they kind of make it work for them.”

The public first became aware of Green’s financial troubles when she applied for Metro Council six years ago.

In 2005, former Councilwoman Denise Bentley vacated the 1st District seat to take a job in Frankfort with then-Gov. Ernie Fletcher. Among the crowded field of 18 candidates, Green carried an endorsement from Bentley along with a number of other prominent African-American leaders who wrote letters of support. It made her an initial favorite to capture the appointment, particularly given her heartwarming biography of being a dentist who adopted 11 children.

“One of the things people didn’t realize was that Judy had been very active already in the community,” Bentley says. “On the surface, I felt like she would be a great advocate for District 1. I’d seen the work Judy had done with being a foster parent and felt there was a passion for the community.”

During the vetting process, it became evident that Green had a history of not paying property taxes and occupational license fees on time.

“I think fiscal responsibility is critical if you’re going to be a council member,” Councilman Jim King, D-10, told The Courier-Journal in a March 2005 interview. “Certainly anyone can make a mistake, but if it’s chronic and they have a history, it’s a significant factor.”

According to state records, the Greens were repeatedly delinquent. The pair failed to pay any property taxes from 1997 through 2003, totaling close to $10,000. The bill was so long overdue that the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office published James Green’s name in the newspaper on a list of deadbeat tax evaders.

The councilwoman also was late in paying her occupational license fee as a dentist over the course of six years. A week before being questioned by the council, Green quickly paid the $2,100.

“It was just a situation of getting the money and getting them paid off,” Green told the C-J at the time, blaming the situation on her adopting 11 children, including many with special needs. “I opted to feed my children and keep a roof over their head.”

Despite that explanation, council members worried those tax troubles could create a public relations liability.

“Our concern, I think, is that we are setting an example for other taxpayers,” Councilman Tom Owen, D-8, said in a 2005 interview.

On March 21, 2005, city lawmakers grilled Green about the unpaid taxes, quizzing her on how it was possible that a person with a medical degree seeking to oversee and allocate the city’s dollars couldn’t manage her own pocketbook.

“I mean, how is it that you are in this household, you are in this home, and you don’t know what’s going on with your taxes?” asked Councilwoman Mary Woolridge, D-3. “I think that the community has a right to have these questions answered.”

Similar to her recent reaction to questions surrounding the ethics complaint and Green Clean Team controversy, Green was unapologetic about her budgeting decisions, saying that if given the chance, she wouldn’t change a thing.

The tax issue handicapped her application and the council appointed Leonard Watkins, a retired banker who proved to be an unsuccessful politician. About a year later, Green thumped Watkins in the three-way Democratic primary by a 20-point margin, becoming the first person to unseat a council incumbent.

The fact that Green wasn’t the least bit contrite about these tax problems would have cost her the race in most campaigns, but in the 1st District, which covers parts of west and southwest Louisville, where foreclosures are common, her financial struggles were not an issue.

“I’m going to be honest: Because of the district that we represented, where everybody feels like they are a paycheck away from poverty, it really was not a news story,” Bentley says. “I knew a lot of constituents who were struggling, but were still good people, and I don’t think it meant a lot to the community that there were some personal financial issues going on with Judy, because most people in the district are in a bind financially.”

At a Jan. 13 caucus meeting, Green told colleagues the Green Clean Team controversy was over. Any subsequent coverage was nothing more than “silly season” for delving into her personal finances.

“It pretty much is what it is when you’re an elected official. As I have found out, people take shots at you and you go on,” she told colleagues. “I got through mine. You just go on. Usually what’s in print is stretched or, in some cases, not even the truth.”

For Green, the airing of her financial problems was a personal attack that has nothing to do with public service. But given the contents of the police investigation, such information is tough to ignore.

In November 2010, Jefferson Circuit Court Judge James M. Shake ordered the sale of the councilwoman’s west Louisville home as a result of a civil lawsuit brought against Green and her husband by businessman Gus Goldsmith.

Seven years earlier, Goldsmith loaned the Greens $140,000 that was secured by a mortgage against their house, according to court papers. Since then, the Greens paid only $3,997 despite signing an agreement calling for payments of $1,494 a month.

The final summary judgment ordered the sale of their house in order to pay Goldsmith the remaining $136,000 balance. Before the judge’s order, the case had dragged on for months, with the Greens dodging Goldsmith’s attorney and county officials. In a civil summons filed with the court, for instance, remarks left by the deputy said that a “black male subject” was inside the home, but refused to answer.

In January, the county commissioner’s office confirmed that the sale of the Green home had been approved and was imminent. However, a recent review of the case file shows that two weeks after LEO published the initial story uncovering the decision, the Greens agreed to pay an undisclosed settlement and the case was dismissed.

When the judgment was filed last year, a number of other government agencies lined up to collect the leftovers had the house been sold.

According to court documents, Green owes $55,411 to the Internal Revenue Service for taxes going back to 1998, as well as $371 to the city for a civil penalty she has failed to pay since 2009. In addition to the unpaid federal taxes and city lien, there is an outstanding $374,896 student loan, stemming from a judgment that goes back to 1989.

In a telephone interview, Stephanie Collins, spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney David Hale’s office, said the federal government is hopeful the IRS will receive payment for the back taxes. The student loan debt, however, could be harder to collect due to a statute of limitations that leaves little legal recourse to recoup the money.

“We believe she has a moral obligation to pay back that money as well,” Collins says. “Certainly, it’s serious. It is a sizeable amount she owes, and that is very serious.”

Later this month, the Metro Ethics Commission will conduct a full hearing to consider a complaint against Green. The complaint — filed by Ray Barker Sr., a retired police officer and anti-gang activist who made an unsuccessful bid against Green in last year’s Democratic primary — claims she used her government position to enrich her family through the summer jobs program. Specifically, the complaint cites the internal audit of $55,000 Green appropriated to fund the program, which employed her husband and other relatives.

“Once I got a copy of the official report and read the facts for myself, I was outraged,” Barker says. “I was hurt for the children, and I was hurt for my community. And I felt since no one has stepped forward to hold our councilperson accountable for the funds, I would.”

In response, Green’s attorney, Brent Wicker, alleges the charges are politically motivated.

“Unfortunately the complainant, who lost the last two elections to Dr. Green, wants to continue that political fight in the media and in this forum,” Wicker said in a statement. “But Dr. Green will follow the law and have no comment on the ethics complaint until the process is over.”

The hearing is scheduled for March 17, and the ethics commission may decide if the charges constitute a violation of the recently amended ethics ordinance, which, among other things, forbids Metro officials from securing “unwarranted privileges” for family members.

On the record, council members have been reticent about discussing the scandal, and even more quiet about the possibility of removing Green from office.

“It’s pretty clear in the ordinance that a council member or a member’s relative cannot receive a financial benefit,” says Councilman Ken Fleming, R-7, who co-authored the ethics bill. “I’ve heard some discussions in the hallways about this among council members, but it hasn’t really elevated to a serious point. I think we need to be aware of what is transpiring with this situation. We should take a little more proactive approach. It’s going to reflect bad on all of us, and we need to be mindful of that.”

In interviews with other media outlets, Green has maintained she’s done nothing wrong and will not step down.

“Those investigations have to be resolved before we can move with anything else at the moment,” says Councilman Brent Ackerson, D-26. “We all have some questions that need answering.”

In the district, people who supported Green still look to her generous appropriations, and say the reaction to the scandal has been mixed. But after being in the news for nearly six months, the story is beginning to sink in among even her staunchest supporters.

“There are people who are holding out judgment and people like myself who are starting to have some suspicion,” says MeShorn Daniels, a west Louisville businessman who supported Green’s anti-sagging pants resolution two years ago. “One thing you do not want to do if you care about providing leadership is to drag your people down into the mud. If it’s questionable and she’s concerned then she should do the right thing.

“I’m a person concerned about credibility, and a certain amount is being lost,” Daniels adds. “She needs to either put it to rest or she needs to do the right thing for the people who have trusted in her. With the latest events, I think it would be to her best interest to resign.”