06/24/2002 11:00PM

Kentucky HBPA drops probe

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The board of directors of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association voted on Monday to drop an investigation into possible conflicts of interest involving several of its former and current officers.

The vote was taken during a closed-door, seven-hour meeting in Louisville, KHBPA officials said. Details of the vote were not provided, and directors refused to comment further.

The investigation centered on Rick Hiles, the former president of the KHBPA; Don Sturgill, the organization's former counsel; and Marty Maline, its executive director. All three were officers in a company called Century Consultants that did business with the Choctaw tribe in Oklahoma.

Choctaw paid Century at least $100,000 over its 18-month existence, from 1999 to 2001. At the same time, Choctaw was also paying the National HBPA - of which Hiles and Sturgill were also officers - for help getting approvals to bring in simulcast signals to the tribe's offtrack betting locations.

The Kentucky HBPA called the investigation in late April at the urging of its president, Alex Harthill, the longtime Kentucky veterinarian. Hiles and Sturgill were already being investigated by the National HBPA.

As part of the Kentucky investigation, Harthill placed Maline on administrative leave without pay, a move that was unpopular with many KHBPA directors. In mid-May, Maline was reinstated by the board despite vociferous objections from Harthill. Some board members had also pushed for Harthill to be removed as president before that meeting.

Harthill had distributed a letter to HBPA members before the Monday meeting recommending that the investigation continue. In the letter, Harthill also called for members to push for a new board election if the investigation was cut off.

Harthill, though, said on Tuesday that he supported the vote to end the investigation. He declined to answer specifics about the vote or the letter.

"I always go along with the multitude," Harthill said. "I wasn't a dissenter."

In the letter, Harthill wrote that some board members had attempted to cut off payments to investigators and the KHBPA's interim counsel, Joe Cohen.

Cohen, a Louisville lawyer brought in by Harthill when Maline was placed on administrative leave, did not return a phone call on Tuesday.