FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The head of a Kentucky government watchdog group said Friday he's seeking an investigation into Gov. Matt Bevin's connection to a Louisville-area mansion that sold for nearly a million dollars below market value.
Richard Beliles, chairman of Common Cause Kentucky, said he filed a complaint with the state's Executive Branch Ethics Commission. It stems from questions regarding the mansion's sale and reports that the Republican governor's family has taken up residence there.
Beliles is asking whether that chain of events involving the governor and one of his backers amounts to improper gifts under the ethics code for state officials.
"I'm hoping that this will get us some answers eventually," Beliles, who filed the complaint as an individual citizen, said in an interview. "Some of this appears to be gifts, as far as the definition under the rules."
Bevin indicated later Friday that he had not seen the complaint but denounced it as political "mumbo jumbo."
"Can't wait to see it. No politics there," he said sarcastically.
Bevin, who had previously declined to answer questions about the matter, acknowledged that he and his family live in the house.
"That's why the state security is there," the governor said. "It's why I drive in and out of there."
Bevin did not say who owns the house.
WDRB-TV reported Friday that the governor said in an interview with the Louisville station that he purchased the home through an LLC for liability and estate planning purposes, not to try to hide anything.
"We bought this home intentionally so that we had a place that was a little removed, so that you couldn't just drive by and look in the windows, so that you couldn't throw something at it, if you were so inclined," he told the station. "And that was the whole point of it. People who are trying to turn that into some nefarious deed is craziness."
At the public event, the governor criticized what he termed media fascination with the matter. He talked at length about it when reporters questioned him about it at the end of an economic development announcement outside the state Capitol, near the Governor's Mansion.
"The idea that I live somewhere other than here or wherever is really that important?" he asked.
The complaint stems from the March sale of the Louisville-area home by a company controlled by Neil Ramsey to a company called Anchorage Place LLC for $1.6 million, according to media reports.
The local Property Valuation Administrator recently valued the property at about $2.57 million.
Beliles' complaint also asks whether Bevin's family lived in the suburban Louisville mansion rent free for a time.
Bevin appointed Ramsey, an investment manager, to the Kentucky Retirement Systems governing board last year. Ramsey has insisted that the $1.6 million sale was a fair market price.
Bevin staunchly defended Ramsey on Friday, saying: "This is a guy who is doing nothing but serving the people of Kentucky."
As for Ramsey's appointment to the KRS board, Bevin said: "You think that's a lottery pick?" Kentucky is struggling to plug a massive shortfall in its pension system.
Bevin also said the property where his family lives was overvalued.
"It is arguably not even worth what was paid for it, let alone what it's being assessed at," he said.
He urged those critical of the events to "let the facts come out, instead of all the breathless hypotheses."
"Wait until we know what it's actually worth, and then you can make whatever assumption you want," Bevin said. "There is a process to that."
Meanwhile, state law prevents the ethics commission from commenting on whether it has received complaints, said Katie Gabhart, its executive director.
The commission discusses complaints in closed-door sessions, when it decides whether to open an investigation. It reveals investigations only if it makes charges of ethics-code violations.
Meanwhile, The Courier-Journal reported recently that Ramsey invested in a Louisville medical device company partly owned by Bevin a few weeks before the mansion's sale.
Ramsey gained a substantial tax credit when he invested $300,000 in Neuronetrix Solutions LLC through state government's "Angel Investment Act" program, the Louisville newspaper reported, citing state records.
Bevin said Friday many people have taken advantage of the tax credit when investing in companies.