EXCLUSIVE: Recently-Defeated Mayor Gave City Loans to Herself, Others

NOTE: This story first appeared on Jan. 5, 2015, on WAVE-TV. A tip and multiple open records requests revealed shady dealings at city hall in one of Louisville’s suburbs, and a mayor less than excited to talk about it.

I went back to West Buechel a lot. I investigated the next mayor’s troubling police lieutenant hire, then why he hired his ex-wife and current girlfriend for city jobs, and later discovered women were accusing a city councilman of sexual harassment.

WEST BUECHEL, KY (WAVE) — Former West Buechel mayor Sharon Fowler loaned herself and two other officials money out of the city’s coffers.

Fowler said she later learned that the practice was “improper” and that, had she known at the time, she wouldn’t have authorized the loans.

Fowler lost her re-election bid in November to Rick Richards, who takes office despite pleading guilty to a felony drug charge in September. A court gave him diversion, meaning the criminal charge would go away if Richards stayed out of trouble.

Fowler loaned herself $700 and also provided Police Chief Gary Sharp with a $1,000 loan, according to documents obtained by WAVE 3 News through an open records request.

The records show Fowler paid the money back. Sharp said that he, too, had paid the money back over a one-year period.

Fowler said city money loaned to another former official was not paid back.

Fowler didn’t return several phone calls seeking comment, then declined to answer questions when confronted Dec. 30 outside City Hall. After leaving office, she answered questions about the loans in a phone interview.

“That’s on me,” Fowler said after saying the loans were improper. “I take responsibility for that.”

Richards, the new mayor, said he wouldn’t continue the practice.

“I don’t believe it’s legal — I’m pretty sure I’m correct on that — so absolutely not,” Richards said.

The documents also revealed Fowler made more than $400 in purchases on the Home Shopping Network and QVC using the city’s credit card. More than $150 in charges at Louisville-area restaurants showed up, as did spending in Las Vegas.

Fowler said the online purchases were Christmas gifts for city council members, city employees, and other adults in West Buechel. Meals at restaurants were for city employees who participated in workshops.

Fowler said she hadn’t been to Las Vegas and called it a fraudulent charge.

In response, Richards said he didn’t plan to give himself access to the city credit card.

Richards faced multiple felony drug charges in September after Metro Police officers served him with a search warrant and found oxycodone. Richards “flushed some of the pills down the toilet as detectives were making entry,” according to a police report.

“As soon as I saw what was in [the package], I panicked,” Richards explained. “I immediately flushed them.”

Richards said his mother sent him the pills via FedEx after he told her that insurance would no longer cover some medication he needed.

He admitted that it was a crime but said he is still fit to serve West Buechel as mayor.

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