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NKYian John A. Stephenson enters Alford plea in bilking life savings of elderly Vietnam veteran

By Jack Brammer
NKyTribune reporter
John A. Stephenson, the last person to serve as Kentucky’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, has entered an Alford plea in Boone Circuit Court related to stealing the life savings of an elderly Vietnam veteran.

Stephenson was accused in 2022 of manipulating Darris Beach, 78, into giving him access to his finances so he could steal $60,000 from Beach’s account.

John A. Stephenson

Stephenson, 80, of Fort Mitchell said Monday he was innocent of the charges but entered the Alford plea.

“I am not guilty,” he said, although the conditions of the plea require him to repay the money, participate in a five-year diversion program, and obey all rules imposed by the state parole and probation office.

Boone County Commonwealth’s Attorney Louis Kelly said an Alford plea is a guilty plea in criminal court. In entering an Alford plea, the defendant admits that the evidence presented by the prosecution would be likely to persuade a judge or jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, he said.

Kelly noted that prosecutors from the Fayette Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office in Lexington served as special prosecutors in the Stephenson case. They did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Stephenson agreed to a five-year, two-page, pretrial diversion order on Sept. 11. Under it, he has to go through a five-year pre-trial diversion program.

In the program, Stephenson must obey all rules imposed by the state parole and probation office, not commit another offense, pay court courts and restitution of $53,000 to Beach’s estate, and complete any recommended substance abuse treatment program.

If Stephenson successfully completes the program, the charge could be dismissed and he may ask it be expunged from his record. If he fails the program, the court may impose a sentence equal to or less than the recommendation by the prosecutor.

Beach, a Vietnam veteran, had been in hospice because of ill health and noticed the money missing from his account, his friend, Bill Price, told Fox 19 NOW in 2022. Beach died last February.

Price, who has the power of attorney for the veteran, said Stephenson wiped out Beach’s life savings.

Stephenson’s attorney, Darrell Cox of Covington, said he does not comment on cases to the media.

Stephenson has a colorful past in Kentucky. A native of Taylor Mill who was graduated from Simon Kenton High School, he is best known for winning the 1991 election for state superintendent of public instruction as a Democrat to run the Department of Education. He was the last person elected to the post before it was stripped of its powers by the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act and eliminated by a 1992 constitutional amendment.

Before then, Stephenson was an aide to U.S. Rep. John Breckinridge.

He ran unsuccessfully for state Senate in the area of Northern Kentucky in 2000. He also was a candidate for U.S. Senate in 2010.

He switched parties to become a Republican and was a frequent contributor to Facebook about his religious and conservative beliefs and especially supported former President Trump. Lately, he described himself as a member of the Independent Christian Party.

He has held numerous jobs, including that of a real estate broker, teacher, videographer/producer, and consultant. He also sang frequently with his strong, baritone voice at public events, including “The National Anthem” at a Fancy Farm political picnic in Western Kentucky, during various campaign stops, and at community events.

Stephenson and his wife, June, have made numerous videos over the years of their travels in Kentucky and have donated some of them to county libraries.

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