2nd man pleads in utilities case

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 13, 2014

  • A second person has pleaded guilty in a theft case involving the Andalusia Utilities Board.

    Former water department manager Kenneth Blackburn, 44, of Red Level, entered a plea of guilty to charges of theft of property I and using a public office for personal gain Wednesday in front of Circuit Judge Ashley McKathan.

    McKathan subsequently handed down a 25-year sentence, consisting of 10 years for the crime of using a public office for personal gain – an ethics violation and class C felony, and 15 years for the crime of theft of property – a class B felony.

    McKathan ruled that time served would be taken into account and a probation hearing set for Blackburn. McKathan said his ruling qualified as a departure sentence, because he handed down a punishment that went above the presumptive sentencing guidelines for such crimes, due to “aggravating factors.”

    McKathan also ruled mitigating factors such as health and possessing the role of sole financial provider could be argued on Blackburn’s behalf in a probationary hearing.

    Blackburn was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $30,470.32, with $29,620.32 to be paid back to the City of Andalusia. He was represented by Grady Lanier.

    Blackburn, who was arrested Wednesday morning, became the second person in two days to plead guilty to theft charges stemming from the case, which dates back to 2008. Tuesday, Mickey Sharpe Jr., 47, pleaded guilty to his role in the case and was sentenced to two years probation by District Judge Trippy McGuire. Covington County District Attorney Walt Merrell called Sharpe the “least culpable of the suspects,” in the case, before indicating further arrests were on the way.

    Blackburn was fired from his position as manager of the utilities board in 2013 after allegations of misconduct were reported to Mayor Earl Johnson and then-Police Chief Wilbur Williams by a former employee of the utilities department. A four-week investigation into the charges followed.

    The investigation was eventually turned over to the district attorney’s office, which subsequently brought in the Alabama Bureau of Investigation for assistance with the case.

    Blackburn was booked into the Covington County jail on bonds of $100,000 and $50,000 prior to pleading guilty Wednesday. He was released on bond shortly after the hearing until such time as a probation hearing can take place.