Grand jury indicts former head of KY's transportation cabinet on bid-rigging
A grand jury has indicted the former head of the state's transportation cabinet, a prominent road contractor and another man. The men face several charges for alleged bid-rigging on state construction projects. At the center of this federal investigation is whether state highway contracts were awarded illegally. The indictment says former transportation secretary Bill Nighbert accepted money in exchange for releasing confidential bid estimates to contractor Leonard Lawson.
It's a 22-page indictment that follows a year-long FBI investigation looking into corruption within the state highway department. At the center of the investigation are former Transportation Secretary Bill Nighbert and contractor Leonard Lawson. Lawson is accused of paying Nighbert $67,000 in exchange for confidential bid information that reportedly played to Lawson's advantage. The illegal process has been called "bid-rigging."
Typically, the state has a confidential estimate for what a state highway project will cost.
Nighbert, who served as secretary under Gov. Ernie Fletcher, is accused of leaking that figure to Lawson several times. In an FBI affidavit filed in early August, the agent says the total value of contracts won by Lawson's companies in 2006-2007 exceeds $129 million.
Nighbert, Lawson and Lawson's employee, Brian Billings, each face charges of conspiracy, misapplication of property and obstruction of justice. The indictment also states Billings and Lawson tried to keep another state highway engineer, James Rummage, from speaking with the feds.
In phone conversation recorded by Rummage, Lawson says: "the FBI..they're just trying to scare you."
Gov. Steve Beshear says is administration has cooperated fully with investigation.
"These indictments seem to be further evidence of a culture of corruption that developed in the transportation cabinet in prior years. We obviously since we arrived on the scene have been cooperating with the federal authorities and we'll continue to do so," said Gov. Steve Beshear.
Nighberts attorney says his client plans to plead not guilty. Lawson's attorney released a statement saying his client won all of his contracts fair and square and went on to say the indictment means nothing.
A spokesman for the governor says Beshear spoke to Lawson earlier this year, but it wasn't about highway engineer James Rummage, the man now cooperating with the feds. Instead, the spokesman says Lawson had called to complain his company was no longer being treated fairly.
Meanwhile, prosecutors say more indictments are possible.