Bid-rigging case tapes sought

DEFENSE BALKS AT RETURNING THEM, ASKS JUDGE FOR MORE

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comSeptember 30, 2008 

Defense attorneys in a transportation corruption investigation say they shouldn't have to return a portion of an audio recording between federal prosecutors and a key witness because the recordings show that prosecutors were trying to manufacture obstruction and witness-tampering charges against their clients.

In court documents filed Monday, defense lawyers asked a federal judge to allow them to keep the recordings, but also want the government to turn over all other similar recordings between federal prosecutors and James Rummage, a key witness.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Taylor filed a motion Sept. 17 asking a federal judge to get defense lawyers to return a portion of an audio recording between federal investigators and Rummage, a former transportation employee who says top road contractor Leonard Lawson gave him $20,000 in cash for internal cabinet estimates of key road projects in 2006 and 2007.

Lawson, former Transportation Secretary Bill Nighbert and a Lawson employee were indicted earlier this month. They are accused of tampering with more than $130 million in state road projects.

Rummage is key to the government's case against Lawson. The Sept. 3 indictment lists several audio recordings of conversations between Lawson and Rummage that prosecutors say show that Lawson was trying to persuade Rummage not to tell federal investigators the truth.

Federal investigators inadvertently gave attorneys for the three men some recordings that included Taylor and investigators talking to Rummage about a phone call he was to make to John Woodall, a lawyer that Lawson asks Rummage to talk to.

In court documents filed Monday, Larry Mackey, an attorney for Lawson, argues that the government wants the recordings back because they were coaching Rummage "to lie to attorney John Woodall and entangle him in the obstruction charges they were engaged in manufacturing against Lawson and others." Exactly what was said by Taylor and federal investigators to Rummage about how "to conduct those calls and how to mislead the participants" will be a key point in the trial, Mackey argues.

Defense lawyers, in court documents and statements, have questioned Rummage's credibility, saying he has lied multiple times to federal investigators about his role in the case.

Monday's court filings did not include the taped portions of the conversations between Rummage and federal investigators because they have been filed under seal.

Mackey is also asking the government to turn over other recordings between prosecutors and Rummage to see whether Rummage was coached in other conversations.

U.S. Magistrate Judge James B. Todd has set an Oct. 7 hearing date for arguments to be heard in the matter. Todd will also hear arguments on whether to postpone the Nov. 12 trial date.

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