Morgan judge-executive plans to plead guilty in federal fraud case

bestep@herald-leader.comAugust 11, 2014 

Morgan County Judge-Executive Tim Conley will plead guilty to a federal fraud charge, according to a motion filed Monday.

The motion from one of Conley's attorneys, Robert Michael Murphy, requested a hearing date for Conley to enter the plea. U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove scheduled the hearing for Aug. 26 in Frankfort.

"This is a chapter in Judge Conley's life he wants to get behind him, and this is the first step in doing that," Murphy said.

Conley, 49, is charged with being part of a scheme to steer contracts to the owner of a construction business, Kenneth Lee Gambill, in return for kickbacks.

The motion filed Monday said Conley will plead guilty to one charge that he committed mail fraud by sending a letter to the state Transportation Cabinet in August 2013 to further the fraud.

The letter certified completion of some bridge projects that were part of the scheme and sought payment, according to the indictment in the case.

Gambill and his wife, Ruth, operated a Magoffin County company called PBTHNOJJ Construction, which stood for Praise Be the Holy Name of Jesus and Jehovah Construction.

The company received contracts to fix roads, build bridges and install culverts in Morgan County, and also to clean up debris from a deadly March 2012 tornado.

A federal grand jury charged that Conley solicited payoffs from Kenneth Gambill and rigged bids to steer contracts to his company.

In some cases, Conley opened documents in private and lowered bids from the company to make sure it had the low bid, according to the indictment.

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

The company got $1.1 million in contracts during the conspiracy, which allegedly lasted from 2009 to August 2013, according to court documents.

Kenneth and Ruth Gambill pleaded guilty last month and would likely have been witnesses against Conley, which could have been a blow to his defense.

Conley made sure PBTHNOJJ Construction got contracts for at least six bridges in 2012 and 2013, and the company kicked back $15,000 on each bridge to the judge-executive, Kenneth Gambill said.

Those were not the only contracts the company allegedly got as part of the scheme, just the ones covered in Gambill's plea.

Gambill, 74, said that altogether, he paid Conley well over $120,000 in kickbacks from the contracts his company got in Morgan County.

The charge to which Conley will plead guilty carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. His sentence will likely be significantly lower under advisory guidelines, however.

Murphy declined comment on the potential sentence Conley faces.

The Gambills are to be sentenced in November.

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.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1

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