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The Vault: The scandal that brought down a former Kentucky governor

Twenty years ago, former Governor Paul Patton was accused of giving a nursing home owner preferential treatment during their affair which made national headlines.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — "That is the first initial sexual overture that I experienced from the governor."  

It was 1997, and according to her account, Tina Conner was approached by then Kentucky Governor Paul Patton at a Tom Barlow political fundraiser.

"Basically, the next morning he called me at the office and propositioned me," she said. "What he say? What do you think about us getting together?" she laughed.

Conner said it was that encounter that started an affair lasting two years – the couple meeting at a hotel off of Hurstbourne Lane nine or 10 times.

It was always at 7 a.m. and the nursing homeowner said their sessions lasted five hours or more with Patton's state police security guard waiting in the car in the hotel parking lot.

During the affair, Conner claims she gained favors from the governor.

In 1998, her western Kentucky nursing home called 'Birchtree' failed to file the proper state Medicaid payments.

Conner insists that Patton took care of it through his chief of staff, Skipper Martin.

"You need to take care of this. See what you could do for her. Within a week, I had a check," she explained.

And that wasn't the only preferential treatment she alleged.

Conner also described the governor getting Transportation Secretary Jim Codell to help her then husband's business, ST Construction, acquire a special disadvantage designation that it didn't meet the qualifications for having.

Credit: Tina Conner
A portion of an autographed photo from that features Tina Conner and former Governor Paul Patton.

"Jim, if Tina says she is running the company, then she is running the company. Shortly thereafter I received certification," she said.

Conner also asserted Patton got her family friend, Monty Clark, a promotion.

"I received a phone call back from Gov. Patton that Mr. Clark would be receiving that position," she said.

In 2000, Conner says the favorable treatment started involving her when she was appointed to a $5,000 seat on the Kentucky Lottery Board.

Conner said she believed that board position was given to her so Patton would have more opportunities to meet her in Louisville.

"I assume that he felt like when I came to the lottery board meetings, I should do the same. The same thing that I did before."

Conner says even though she ended the affair in 1999, Patton didn't stop calling until October 2001.

Two months later, state inspectors wrote up 163 violations at her nursing home.

The inspection and Birchtree's failure to fix the problems prompted the federal government to cut off Medicaid funding to Birchtree.

Ninety percent of the residents were forced to move and Birchtree filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy papers in September of 2002.

"He wants to destroy me if something comes up in the future, I would be totally discredited and destroyed and ruined. Out of business and basically no threat to him," she said.

Conner blamed Patton for her business going under and filed suit in 2002.

That's when she sat down with former WHAS11 News reporter Mark Hebert to tell her story.

"I know this is a railroad treatment. That I know he is not telling me the truth and I'm not going down in flames alone," she said.

At first, the governor denied the affair.

"Have you ever had sexual relations with Tina Conners?” Hebert asked.

“I have not,” Patton replied.

Hebert asked again, “You have never had sexual relations with this woman?”

“I have not,” Patton said.

The governor’s denial didn’t last and within days of Conner taking her story public, he confessed to the affair.

"I apologize to the people of Kentucky for my failure as a person. I have already apologized to Judy and my family. I am also sorry that I denied the mistakes that I made in my private life."

Credit: AP
Sept. 18, 2002 | Kentucky Governor Paul Patton

Fallout from the affair ended Patton's political career – a man who had once dreamed of running for U.S. Senate.

"I do not anticipate in the foreseeable future any involvement in the political process including the U.S. Senate," he said.

Conner was caught in web of lies of her own.

"You thought you got that designation improperly but did you really?” Hebert asked.

“I feel that way," Conner replied.

Conner lied about her ex-husband's construction company to get an edge in government contracts.

One year later, in 2003, Conner pleaded guilty to mail fraud.

"I can face my children and say I've taken responsibility for what I've done," she said.

On February 9, 2004, she tried to withdraw that plea, but the judge rejected it.

Credit: WHAS-TV
FILE | Tina Conner leaves a federal courthouse in 2004.

She was sentenced to two years' probation and no jail time.

Governor Patton never admitted to giving Connor special treatment, but the ripple effects wouldn't end with the couple.

Political experts said the Democratic party took collateral damage after the initial interview, when Republicans tied every Democratic candidate for state Senate and Congress to Patton.

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