Ethington agrees to pay $1,504 in fines

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He pleads guilt to violations and avoids trial

By Lisa King

A year and a half after being charged with hundreds of criminal counts for how he managed Ethington Auto, the owner of that dealership has been fined and won’t be facing jail time.

Donnie Ethington, 71, accepted a plea agreement Friday in Shelby District Court from special appointed prosecutor Jenny Harrod of Henry County, in which 142 of the 169 counts of failure to process paperwork properly on the sale of autos were dismissed.

Ethington pleaded guilty to 27 counts of failing to give a title to the purchasers of cars he sold.

He was ordered by special Judge Matthew Eckert to pay a $50 fine on each of those charges, plus court costs, that totaled $1,504.

Eckert, formerly of Jefferson County, was appointed to preside over the case because Shelby’s district judges had recused themselves because they know Ethington personally.

Ethington would have undergone a jury trial on Nov. 15 on the charges, if an agreement had not been reached Friday.

Ethingon said he was relieved the ordeal was over with.

“I am satisfied with how it went today,” he said.

Ethington’s attorney, Bill Stewart of Shelbyville, said the 142 counts that were dismissed were all misdemeanors, except for one felony, which involved an altered VIN number, which also was dismissed.

He said it should be noted that Ethington was only actually charged with half of the 169 charges, because they were duplicated to apply to William Ledford, Ethington’s business partner, who passed away Oct. 19.

The 27 charges that remained were only violations, which were lumped in with the misdemeanors, Harrod said.

She did not elaborate in detail on why she chose to dismiss the misdemeanor charges.

“It’s a decision I reached in talking with the state police and to the victims,” she said.

There were a total of 12 victims in the case.

Stewart said he and his co-counsel, Sam Carl, were pleased with the outcome.

“I think the result speaks for itself,” Stewart said. “After all of this, he was only ordered to pay a fifty-dollar fine for some violations. And everything he was charged with [not giving titles to owners], he took care of, just not when he was supposed to.”

Said Carl: “I think it’s interesting how many state resources were used to collect evidence in this case, only to end up with fifty-dollar fines.”

Kentucky State Police Trooper Hunter Martin, the lead investigator, left the courtroom without making a statement.

The charges were brought in April 2011, when KSP officers, armed with a search warrant, converged on the car lot that Ethington has operated for decades at 1744 Midland Trail in Shelbyville, and seized boxes of records, computers and other items, including a vehicle.

Ethington Auto has managed to remain open and in business throughout the year-and-half-long court process.

In December the Kentucky Motor Vehicle Commission filed charges against the dealership after it came to the commission’s attention that Ethington Auto was under investigation by KSP.

It took the commission until the following spring to make a decision on the matter, and in April, 2012, it ordered Ethington Auto to close its doors by April 22.

However, Ethington appealed that decision, and Franklin Circuit Court Thomas Wingate consented to permit the dealership to remain open for the remainder of the appeal process.

Trevor Earl, attorney for the MVC, said the judge has not made a decision on the appeal.

Stewart said Friday that he does not know when Wingate will make a decision on the matter.

“He could find that the Motor Vehicle Commission acted appropriately in revoking the dealership’s license, or he could rule the reverse, or he could even order a new hearing to be held,” he said.

Ethington said he plans to stay open for business until and if he is ordered to do otherwise.