Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

April 20, 2014

Second trial delay sought

Morgan judge-exec, business owners face federal charges

FRANKFORT — The lead attorney for Morgan County Judge-Executive Tim Conley has requested his client’s trial date be pushed back again.

M. Benjamin Shields of Mount Sterling recently filed a motion in U.S. District Court seeking a continuance of the trial scheduled to begin June 17.

It’s the second time Shields has requested the proceedings be delayed. The trial was originally scheduled to begin in January. Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove pushed it back to June after Shields said he needed more time to review the large volume of discovery material provided to him by the government.

In his most recent motion to continue, Shields said even with the six-month delay, there was no way Conley’s legal team could digest all of that material in time to be ready for trial by mid-June.

“Counsel for the defendant continue to work diligently, but the sheer volume of documents provided by the United States, and the analyses and coinciding investigation of each, make preparation for the current June date impossible,” he wrote.

Shields also requests the trial not be rescheduled to take place between July 28 and Aug. 1 “due to a current family commitment.”

Conley and his co-defendants, Kenneth Lee and Ruth Gambill, owners of PBTHNOJJ Construction of Salyersville, were named in a federal indictment returned in December. All three have entered not-guilty pleas.

Kenneth Gambill and Conley are charged with four counts of mail fraud and one count each of theft from a program receiving federal funds and conspiracy to money-laundering. Ruth Gambill is charged with conspiracy to money-laundering.

According to the 13-page indictment, from early 2009 until Aug. 20 of this year, Conley used his position as judge-executive to subvert the competitive bidding process and steer bids for small bridges and culverts in Morgan County to the Gambills’ company in exchange for “gifts, payments and other things of value.”

Conley identified potential projects for the construction firm and sought and obtained funding for those projects through the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, the indictment states. He then allegedly “rigged purportedly competitive bidding processes” to ensure PBTHNOJJ Construction would be awarded the contracts for those projects.

PBTHNOJJ Construction obtained about $1.1 million in proceeds from contracts it secured with Morgan County through the scheme, the indictment states. Kenneth Gambill allegedly provided kickbacks to Conley, including cash payments derived from the proceeds of those contracts.

Conley and Kenneth Gambill are charged with mail fraud for allegedly using the U.S. Postal Service in furtherance of the bid-rigging scheme.

Conley and the Gambills also are accused of misusing federal aid dollars that flowed into Morgan County following the March 2, 2012, tornado that devastated the city of West Liberty and other locations in the county.

Following the tornado, the county contracted with PBTHNOJJ Construction for debris removal, and according to the indictment, Conley misused his position and authority to ensure the firm was overpaid for the work.

The mail fraud and money-laundering charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, while the program fraud count carries a 10-year sentence. However, any sentences the defendant might receive following conviction would be imposed following the consideration of federal sentencing guidelines. There is also a maximum fine of $250,000 for each count.

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.

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