Report: Blair, advisers helped effort to reveal Kuhn affair in Marion
Published: Monday, January 21, 2013 at 6:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 9:46 a.m.
The former school principal whose extramarital affair derailed Dan Kuhn's bid to be Marion County's next sheriff had more help in ending Kuhn's candidacy than previously had been known.
Although Chris Blair claimed for months that he was only vaguely aware of the affair, Kuhn's political rival, who took office as Marion County sheriff earlier this month, actually worked closely with Melissa Cook and her attorney to build the case against Kuhn.
Under oath, Blair, his top political advisers and Cook's attorney, Charles Holloman, acknowledged to investigators that they worked hand in hand to chronicle the affair in a book that was presented to Sheriff Ed Dean.
The book contained meticulous documentation of how the affair was conducted, at times on Sheriff's Office property and with the help of several sheriff's officials. It set in motion the events that ultimately drove Kuhn from office and out of the race to succeed Dean, and it opened the door for Blair to get back in the sheriff's race and win election, three months after Kuhn bounced him out of the race in the Republican primary.
Blair declined the Star-Banner's request to answer followup questions about his and his campaign team's involvement in making Kuhn's affair public.
Instead, he issued a brief written statement to the Star-Banner.
"As sheriff, myself and my command staff, stated many times that we as a law enforcement agency, must come together to heal and forgive. We must remain positive and do what we believe is right regardless of the few in this community that would drive negativity," the statement reads.
"We need to learn how to love and respect one another, and then, and only then, will we all prevail. It is in the best interests of all that we listen to our hearts and unite so that the Sheriff's Office can move forward in a positive direction."
Holloman, Cook and Ron Kolb, one of Blair's staunchest supporters, also all declined to be interviewed.
Kolb, who worked with Blair's campaign and later hired Cook when she was fired from her job over the affair, issued a statement on behalf of himself, Cook and Holloman.
"Mr. Holloman, Mrs. Cook and I also agree the story has been told. We believe the community is done and ready to move on. It is our hope that your focus will turn to stories that unite," Kolb wrote in an email to the Star-Banner.
"We will not participate in any more stories focused on dividing."
Genesis of a scandal
Blair has acknowledged in past interviews that Cook came to him after he lost the primary election to Kuhn and told him about her affair with Kuhn. Blair said he advised her to get an attorney and gave her several names, including that of his longtime friend Charles Holloman.
But his involvement with Cook did not end there.
According to multiple people interviewed by Internal Affairs investigator Leo Smith and FDLE Agent Mike Stephenson, Holloman turned back to Blair and his campaign advisers days later for help documenting the affair.
According to her interview with investigators, Cook said she went to Holloman seeking "legal protection" for her job as principal at Hale Academy, a local private school.
Cook said Doug Cone, who founded Hale and was Cook's boss at the time, had learned of the affair, and she was afraid Cone would fire her if the affair became public. Cone denied to investigators that he threatened her job.
Holloman said it was "about an hour" into his initial meeting with Cook that he realized it was a brewing political scandal and not just an employment protection case.
He told investigators that he took Cook's story back to Blair and his team after meeting with her.
"I needed to know if this thing had legs, because I was a newbie to this allegation ... How could I do it without talking to them?" he told investigators.
While Holloman insists his decision to involve Kuhn's former political opponent was motivated by his client's interests and not by politics, it was clear Holloman was interested in how the sheriff's race would be affected if Kuhn quit the campaign.
State Rep. Dennis Baxley has acknowledged that Holloman contacted him in the days before Holloman and Cook went public with the affair.
Baxley said Holloman detailed the affair to him and then Baxley explained the process whereby the Republican Party would pick a new candidate if Kuhn dropped out.
Baxley, another strong Blair supporter, has said he was consulted because he knew of other instances when elected officials were doomed by such scandals.
When Cook went public with the affair in October, she and Holloman said their motivation was to warn the public about Kuhn's dark secrets and deceptions so he wouldn't get elected. But that does not explain why Holloman took an interest in who might succeed Kuhn in the race when he spoke to Baxley.
In his interviews with investigators, Holloman himself seems conflicted about his allegiances.
On the one hand, he said Blair's camp encouraged him to take certain steps in pursuing Cook's accusations but he refused because that was for "political advantage" and inconsistent with his client's interest.
"There's two separate things working here," Holloman told investigators. "She's got her own motivations, that are particular to herself. And then you have people that are in position to profit and to gain from her motivations because of where it's taking the general geopolitical landscape."
"I made it clear ... I said, ‘Look, I understand where it may take you guys. It may take you somewhere you want to go, but you've got to understand that where your interests diverge from my client's, my duty is totally to my client.' "
Yet Holloman also suggested Kuhn's opponents were justified in doing what they did.
"Why should the Blair camp sit back and do nothing and not take any advantage of this, is your question, and not participate in anything? ... Why should they have to do that just because they lost the campaign?" Holloman said to investigators.
Investigators concluded that Blair's camp hadn't sat on the sidelines.
During the first of two interviews with Cook, Holloman rebuffed their repeated questions to her about who authored the documents in the book, asserting attorney-client privilege.
Under pressure to answer the questions, Holloman asked for a break to consult with Cook.
After they left the room, one of the investigators can be heard on the tape uttering, "It's (expletive) Blair."
The book of revelation
On the morning of Oct. 1, Holloman met with Dean to present the case against Kuhn.
Kuhn's misconduct included having sex with Cook while he was supposedly on duty, and using government vehicles to meet her for their trysts.
The book contained sworn statements from Cook and her husband, a list of possible witnesses who could verify her accusations, phone records, emails, credit card receipts, a copy of her employment contract, a police officers' code of conduct and a timeline of Kuhn's sessions with Cook called the "agenda."
The book also included a glossy flier, which was formatted like a political ad and labeled as "confirmed" Kuhn's affairs with Cook and two other women, as well as outlining laws he might have violated as a result.
Smith's investigation determined that there was no evidence one of them, a female deputy, was ever involved with Kuhn. The third woman denied the affair, and investigators didn't pursue it deeply because it wasn't clear the supposed relationship even involved Sheriff's Office business.
Besides Blair, Holloman identified Tommy Bibb, Fred LaTorre, Don Maines and Ron Kolb — all of Blair's closest advisers — as his consultants on Cook's case.
Upon taking office last week, Blair named LaTorre and Bibb, two high-ranking retirees from the Sheriff's Office, as his chief deputy and the head of the Sheriff's Office's Special Investigations Unit, respectively.
Blair added Maines, a retired FDLE special agent, to serve as head of the newly created Professional Compliance Bureau.
When questioned by investigators, Holloman originally declined to tell investigators how he obtained the book. So Smith obtained a subpoena to compel Holloman to respond to the question.
Once under oath, Holloman told Smith it "fell into my possession," given to him by Kolb after it had been assembled at Kolb's house.
Kolb operates a local publishing company and subsequently hired Cook — who had been fired by Hale's board after she went public with the affair.
Kolb, who has known Cook since the late 1990s, when he had sold advertising in his publication to her for the school, told investigators in a separate interview that he was brought in to glean details from Cook because she needed someone she felt comfortable in telling her story.
Like Holloman, Kolb told investigators that Blair, Bibb, LaTorre and Maines participated in a "team effort" to create and compile the damning information against Kuhn.
"I couldn't put all this information together without the help of people who knew how to do this. So I was able to take that, get this with this team and they were able to help put this together so it could be communicated" to Dean, Kolb told investigators.
Blair was "not involved in orchestrating putting the book together," Kolb maintained. But Blair "was in and out sometimes.
"He did know those things were happening, and he wants to make sure that gets communicated as well," Kolb told the investigators.
Blair himself communicated as much to investigators, saying Cook supplied him with information about one of the other women who wound up in the book.
Blair identified the flier as "work product for Charles Holloman" and when asked about its claim regarding one of those women, said Cook had told him directly about her.
"She's the one who mentioned (her) to me. That's how that wound up there," Blair said.
Contact Bill Thompson at 867-4117 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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