- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 30, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - The chairman of Kentucky’s Republican Party has called on a Democratic state House candidate to withdraw from the race after the candidate was indicted on a misdemeanor charge of failing to promptly report suspected sexual abuse of a child.

John Wayne Smith was one of six current or former officials at the Bluegrass Challenge Academy in Fort Knox who were indicted on the charge, according to an indictment. It said the charges stem from the indictment of 44-year-old Stephen Miller, who is charged with sexually abusing three students at the academy last year.

Smith is challenging Republican Rep. Michael Meredith in the 19th district, which includes portions of Edmonson and Warren counties. His campaign website lists him as the former director of the Bluegrass Challenge Academy from 2003 to 2013. Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Smith by phone were unsuccessful.

If convicted, he could face up to a year in prison, a fine of up to $100,000 or a year of supervised release, according to the indictment.

State House races are watched closely this election cycle as Democrats cling to an eight-seat majority. Republicans are trying to take control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 1920. Meredith has been in the House for two terms, but he is running in a newly drawn district. He said 75 percent of the voters are new to him, giving Democrats an opening to defeat him.

“I do think that it’s a serious allegation obviously and it raises a lot of questions but I think it would be premature of me to make any further comment at this time,” Meredith said.

Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo declined to comment, citing the ongoing legal process. But Republican Party of Kentucky chairman Steve Robertson called on Smith to withdraw from the race, citing the serious nature of the charges.

Smith is at least the second candidate to be indicted this election cycle. Republican state Rep. Ben Waide, who is running for Hopkins County Judge executive, was indicted by a Franklin County grand jury on charges of violating state campaign finance laws. That case is pending.

Robertson did not call on Waide, the Republican, to drop out of his race, saying there was a difference between campaign finance charges and failure to report sexual abuse charges.

“I think that’s primarily a dispute between some business partners,” Robertson said of Waide’s case, where he is accused of knowingly accepting $10,000 in campaign contributions from a company he works for. “This is a situation where you are dealing with sexual abuse in the workplace.”

The Bluegrass Challenge Academy is a residential educational program run by the Kentucky National Guard. It accepts high school students who have dropped out or are at risk of dropping out. Since it opened in 1999, the academy at Fort Knox has graduated 2,400 students who have earned 1,191 GED certificates and 1,900 high school credits, according to Lt. Col. Kirk Hilbrecht, director of public affairs for the Kentucky National Guard.

Smith has made his experience at the academy a big part of his campaign, with his accomplishments featured prominently on his campaign website.

“These years at Kentucky Youth ChalleNGe have been some of the most rewarding of my life, as my impact has been direct and immediate,” Smith wrote. “I sincerely hope we can continue this great work in Kentucky.”

Kentucky Adjutant General Edward W. Tonini said in a news release three of the employees named in the indictment have been placed on investigative leave. The other three, including Smith, no longer work at the academy. He said the academy’s new director, Patrick Yewell, has “extensive experience in juvenile justice and safety.”

“The Bluegrass Challenge Academy and the Kentucky National Guard take these allegations very seriously. Cadet safety is a critical priority,” Tonini said.

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