Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

February 14, 2014

Request by Morgan judge partially approved

Kenneth Hart
The Independent

LEXINGTON — A federal judge on Tuesday partially granted Morgan County Judge-Executive Tim Conley’s request to modify the terms of his pre-trial release.

Conley, under federal indictment for his role in an alleged bid-rigging, bribery and kickback scheme, requested the conditions of his release be altered to relax the conditions of his home incarceration; to allow him to attend church services; and to allow him to visit the local nursing home, as he has done regularly in the past.

Conley also sought clarification of his current conditions regarding communicating about Morgan County business through a county-designated liaison.

Following a hearing on Tuesday, U.S Magistrate Judge Robert E. Wier modified the conditions of Conley’s home confinement to allow him to leave his home for personal errands, including errands to attend to household and family matters, with advance permission from, and on a precise schedule approved by, the U.S. Probation Office.

“Defendant may not leave his home for purely social activities, such as a going out to dinner,” Wier wrote.

Wier also permitted Conley to attend one church service per week, with the possibility of attending others on occasion with permission from the USPO.

Wier took Conley’s request to visit the nursing home under advisement, saying he needed more information from the USPO before making a decision.

The judge declined to clarify the condition concerning Conley communicating about county business, saying he felt the restriction was already “clear as stated.”

Conley’s attorney, M. Benjamin Shield of Mount Sterling, sought the clarification because he said “it has become unclear what the defendant can and cannot say and about what the defendant can and cannot inquire” given that he is prohibited from communicating directly or indirectly with county employees.

For example, following Conley’s indictment, the fiscal court gave a pay raise to a county employee. When Conley asked about that through the liaison, “he was later told this was possibly an attempted indirect communication with a county employee,” Shields wrote.

Conley and his co-defendants, Kenneth Lee and Ruth Gambill of Salyersville, are scheduled to stand trial June 17.

Conley and the Gambills, 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 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.”

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 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.