Couple pleads guilty to money laundering in case involving Morgan judge-executive

gkocher1@herald-leader.comJuly 22, 2014 

Downtown West Liberty was one of the hardest hit communities devastated by the March 2 tornado outbreak in Eastern Kentucky. Twenty-three Kentuckians were killed in the storms.


FRANKFORT — A married couple charged along with Morgan County Judge-Executive Tim Conley in a federal corruption case pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court.

Kenneth and Ruth Gambill of Salyersville each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The Gambills operated a Salyersville company, PBTHNOJJ Construction, that received contracts in Morgan County to build bridges, install culverts and clean up debris after a March 2, 2012, tornado devastated West Liberty, according to the federal indictment. The company also is known as Praise Be the Holy Name of Jesus and Jehovah Construction Inc.

The indictment charged that Conley rigged bids to steer contracts to the company. In some cases, Conley opened documents in private and lowered bids from PBTHNOJJ Construction to make sure it had the low bid, according to the indictment.

As part of the scheme, Conley ensured that the contracts for at least six bridges were awarded to the company in 2012 and 2013 and, in return, the Gambills paid Conley $15,000 in cash, per bridge, from the company's proceeds, according to the plea agreement.

"I gave $15,000 for each of those bridges," Kenneth Gambill, 74, confirmed in open court while answering some clarifying questions from Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Boone.

Ruth Gambill, 57, confirmed in open court that she deposited checks received as payment for construction jobs and then took a portion of those dollars and gave it to her husband, "and he would pay it to Judge Conley each time."

All told, Conley solicited and the Gambills paid "well over $120,000 in cash kickbacks from PBTHNOJJ Construction's proceeds from these contracts," the plea agreement said.

Conley also made sure the company got more pay for tornado cleanup than justified, the indictment said.

The company got $1.1 million in proceeds during the conspiracy, which allegedly began before the tornado — in 2009 — and lasted until August 2013.

The federal penalty for conspiracy to commit money laundering is 20 years in prison, a $500,000 fine or twice the value of the property involved, whichever is greater, and at least three years of supervised release. The Gambills agree to make a "full and complete financial disclosure" to prosecutors as part of the plea agreement.

U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove scheduled sentencing for Nov. 18.

Conley, 49, has pleaded not guilty. He is scheduled for trial Aug. 25. The Gambills are likely to be witnesses against Conley if his case goes to trial.

Under the term of his release from jail, Conley is under home incarceration and is prohibited from having contact with any witnesses in the case or with the Gambills. Only his family, his clergy person, his attorney and representatives of the probation office may visit the Conley home.

Conley was unopposed in the Republican primary this year in his bid for a fourth term, but he has opposition in the November general election.

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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