FRANKFORT — Jerry Lundergan made some mistakes as he scrambled in 2013 to help launch his daughter’s campaign for the U.S. Senate, his defense attorney said in court Tuesday.
“But it’s not a crime to commit a mistake,” said Guthrie True, a Frankfort lawyer heading Lundergan’s defense team against 10 federal counts that he conspired to make illegal corporate contributions to Alison Lundergan Grimes’ campaign and then tried to cover it up.
Tuesday was the first day of a trial that is expected to last four weeks in the federal building here. Dale Emmons, a longtime Democratic consultant from Richmond, is also charged with conspiracy and five other counts.
The two were indicted a year ago for their alleged activities in support of Grimes’ 2014 campaign to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.
True said Lundergan’s indictment creates a false conspiracy narrative by linking expenses mistakenly paid by his company at the outset of that campaign with later payments by the company for expenses that were not obligations of the campaign.
“We believe the evidence will show these checks do not prove intent to engage in a criminal conspiracy,” True told the jury
True also argued that Grimes’ campaign raised more than $2.5 million in its first three months — and $18.8 million by election day in 2014 — and did not need any free services.
“This campaign always had the money to pay its bills,” True said.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Kate K. Smith told jurors the prosecution will present testimony and show them checks that prove Lundergan conspired with Emmons to intentionally commit serious campaign finance crimes by providing “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in services to the Grimes campaign — illegal corporate contributions.
“This paper trail is what shows these two men were working together to make secret corporate contributions,” Smith said.
And Smith did not describe the actions as mere mistakes. “The decided that the rules did not apply to them…They meant to do what they were doing,” she said.
Smith said prosecutors plan to call Jonathan Hurst, a Democratic strategist who worked with the Grimes campaign, to the stand.
True told jurors in his opening statement that the government has “promised not to prosecute” Hurst.
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Emmons’ lawyer, Brandon Marshall of Lexington, told jurors that Emmons worked as a general consultant to the campaign but that he “has never been much involved in the complexities of campaign finance.”
With family members of Lundergan and Emmons looking on from the front benches behind the defense table, their lawyers described each as rising in the world of politics from humble beginnings — Lundergan from Mason County, Emmons from Fleming County.
True said Lundergan is “a self-made man” who built a thriving catering business for everything from NASCAR races to a presidential inauguration to papal visits to the United States.
He said Lundergan was “fiercely loyal to his (five) daughters.”
Grimes was elected Kentucky secretary of state in 2011, and was urged by many Democrats to challenge McConnell in 2014. But after consulting with family, she decided she would tell supporters meeting in Frankfort on July 1, of 2013, she would not take on McConnell.
But after backers convinced Grimes at that meeting to take on the challenge, she changed her mind and announced afterward she was running for the U.S. Senate.
The quick turnabout required the new campaign to scramble to plan “a new rollout,” True said, a major campaign event on June 30 attended by more than 1,000 people.
The haste and confusion in planning that event is where mistakes were made, and Lundergan’s company failed to put some expenses on invoices it sent the campaign.
Most other alleged corporate contributions by Lundergan’s company — including several $20,000 payments to Emmons — were for services provided not to Grimes’ campaign committee, but to the “coordinated campaign” of the Kentucky Democratic Party to elect Grimes and other Democrats on the ballot in the fall of 2014.
But Smith, the prosecutor, told jurors that the coordinated Democratic campaign did not begin until the spring of 2014 — after many of the improper payments were made by Lundergan’s company to Emmons.
Smith told jurors that prosecutors will prove the defendants’ actions were intentional by introducing evidence of similar illegal corporate contributions made by Lundergan and Emmons in Grimes’ successful races for secretary of state in 2011 and 2015.
True said that state, not federal, law governs those campaigns for secretary of state. He said no one has been charged with campaign finance crimes related to those races.
This story will be updated.
Reporter Tom Loftus can be reached at 502-875-5136 or email@example.com. Twitter: @TomLoftus_CJ. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: www.courier-journal.com/toml.