Allegations of corruption in Jessamine County over the past decade are at the heart of a lawsuit filed early this year by one local land developer against another.
Forest Creek, LLC filed its lawsuit in January alleging local developer Clay Corman and Harold “Hal” Snowden Jr., owner of Roseglade Farm, conspired to hinder its multimillion-dollar residential development. The lawsuit remains in a state of discovery, and there may be more defendants named in the alleged conspiracy, according to attorney Constance Grayson of Gullette & Grayson, PSC, who filed the suit.
Forest Creek alleges “public corruption” has a stranglehold on most of the county’s planned developments through Corman’s control over past and current members of the Nicholasville Planning Commission and the city commission. In an amended complaint filed March 19, Forest Creek alleges Corman offered planning-commission approval of various projects in exchange for hiring his firm to do the work. Corman is not a current or former member of the planning commission.
To support its claims, Forest Creek’s lawsuit cites letters from attorneys Hank Graddy and Elizabeth Darby that state that current planning commissioners Richard Collins, Shawn Murphy and Danny Fredrick have “clear conflicts of interest” and have gained and will gain from Corman’s business dealings. Graddy gave letters with various allegations against these three commissioners to the planning commission at two 2011 meetings in a matter unrelated to the Forest Creek lawsuit. Darby’s letter mirrors Graddy’s, and both of them again presented letters alleging conflicts of interest on May 29, two months after the amended complaint was filed.
The lead defense attorney, David Marshall, declined to comment. However, Marshall filed an answer to the complaint in April and denied all the allegations. He also submitted a motion to dismiss paragraph 25 of the amended complaint, which contains many of the allegations regarding Corman.
Marshall calls the allegations “wholly immaterial” and says the lawsuit has no merit since Snowden and Forest Creek signed an agreement Aug. 14, 2007, that stipulates neither development would interfere with the other’s plans. Snowden at the time had a verbal business relationship with Corman in a development planned on his farm near Wilmore (Roseglade).
Marshall’s motion for dismissal awaits a ruling by Madison Circuit Judge William Clouse Jr. of Richmond, who was assigned the case after Jessamine County Circuit Judge Hunter Daugherty recused himself in May.
Forest Creek’s property, off Murphy Lane, is slated to be the future home of a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course and a 600-plus-unit residential subdivision financially backed by investors James A. Kelley, James W. and Diana Kelley, and William “Bill” Robinson.
Both Roseglade and Forest Creek have been annexed into the city of Wilmore, but their residential developments have been tied up in litigation for years.
Forest Creek’s lawsuit alleges Corman used his political influence to manipulate or destroy a number of planned developments in Jessamine County.
The complaint also alleges that James A. Kelley was approached by a unnamed member of the Lexington law firm of McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland, LCC, and told to speak with the FBI about an open investigation into public corruption in Jessamine County. This person told Kelley that a family member who owns a construction company had the same difficulties and delays as Forest Creek’s development because they “did not cooperate with Corman.”
An official from the FBI’s Lexington office would neither confirm nor deny any investigation but was aware of the ongoing litigation.
The Forest Creek lawsuit also alleges that Corman and Snowden attempted to persuade the Jessamine South Elkhorn Water District (JSEWD) “to refuse to approve Forest Creek’s desired water and sewer plan.”
It alleges strong “personal and financial ties” between Corman and Nicholasville City Attorney Bill Arvin and blames Arvin for stalling documents meant for the JSEWD’s approval of Forest Creek’s plan. Those complaints have been taken to the Public Service Commission and are in discovery.
Forest Creek also alleges Corman has used his political influence to convince other businesses, such as Wildcat Ford and Toyota on Nicholasville, to use only contractors and engineers he suggests in order to get annexation and/or zoning approval.
According to the suit, Corman approached Wildcat Ford’s general manager and said approval by the Nicholasville Planning Commission for a construction project would be “no problem” if Corman’s excavation company was hired and J.R. Banks was retained as the project engineer.
“I did discuss the project with Mr. Corman, but there was absolutely no intimidation,” Larry Oldham, who at the time was general manager of Wildcat Ford, wrote in an email to The Journal in July. “Mr. Corman presented a bid and told me he could handle getting the approval from the city.”
Oldham is no longer at Wildcat Ford and is currently the general manager of a dealership in Indiana. The $400,000 parking-lot construction project is still in the engineering phase, according to Nicholasville Planning Commission director Greg Bohnett, and the dealership has not come forward with any definitive plans.
The other dealership caught in the fray is Toyota on Nicholasville, which was built by Stephen D. Prater Builders, Inc. and Corman.
The suit states, “Forest Creek was informed by construction management of Toyota on Nicholasville that Corman had a non-compete contract for the work on that construction. That project had no significant difficulties in securing approval and encountered no unreasonable delays.”
A representative from Prater’s office said he would not comment on the lawsuit but confirmed Corman and Prater worked on the Toyota on Nicholasville project.
The lawsuit alleges Corman used his ties with certain members of the annexation committee to delay development of Brannon Crossing by former developers Jim Hughes and Dermontti Dawson.
The suit alleges that in 2005 then-city commissioner and current mayor Russ Meyer told the developers of Brannon Crossing that nothing would get done without Corman’s “blessing.” Meyer denies ever saying that, but he was on the committee that recommended annexation of Brannon Crossing and refused to recommend annexation to Forest Creek.
The mayor in 2006, John P. Martin, was not surprised at the lawsuit’s assessment of Corman’s development dealings in Jessamine County.
“I had limited dealings with Corman and Brannon Crossing,” Martin said. “But (developments ‘needing Corman’s blessing’) is something I would say about his business practices in the county.”
Corman was also on the Jessamine County Joint Economic Development Authority during Martin’s time as mayor.
“He was very much involved in economic development in our area,” Martin said. “Clay was on the authority when I was elected — it gave him a lot of leeway to be in on everything.”
Dawson eventually filed bankruptcy in July 2010 after a string of failed developments in Jessamine County. Neither Hughes nor Dawson could be reached for comment.
Phone calls to Corman’s office seeking comment were not returned.