Prosecutors are opposing former Morgan County Judge-Executive Tim Conley’s challenge to his guilty plea and sentence in a federal corruption case.
Conley is seeking a new hearing on his plea, which would allow him to argue for less time in prison. He is currently serving seven years and three months.
In a motion filed this week, however, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew T. Boone argued that Conley waived his right to appeal his conviction and sentence, and asked the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold both.
Conley was a popular politician, winning three terms as a Republican in a county where Democrats hold a 7 to 1 registration edge. He helped lead recovery efforts after a tornado ripped through West Liberty and other areas of the county in March 2012, causing heavy damage and killing six people.
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But in December 2013, a federal grand jury charged that he had been taking kickbacks from a contractor for years.
Court records say Conley arranged a scheme in which he privately opened bids on bridge-construction projects and changed the numbers to make sure a contractor named Kenneth Gambill was the low bidder, then extorted a kickback from Gambill.
In one example in May 2013, Conley secretly opened bids on three bridges. On two, he lowered Gambill’s offer so it would be $100 less than those of a competitor who had bid less than Gambill, Boone said in his motion.
On the third, Conley added $20,000 to Gambill’s bid — creating more money for a payoff — but still kept it below the competitor’s offer.
Conley received at least $130,000 in kickbacks from 2009 through August 2013, according to court records.
Conley pleaded guilty in August 2014, agreeing not to appeal a sentence of seven years and three months or less. That was the top sentence for him under advisory guidelines.
However, prosecutors then asked U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove to send Conley to prison for more than 11 years, arguing his conduct had been especially egregious.
Van Tatenhove turned down that request and sentenced Conley to seven years and three months.
Lexington attorney Jerry Anderson filed an appeal for Conley last year. He said Conley had not fully understood the mail-fraud crime in his plea, which involved him sending a request to the state for money for bridge projects.
Anderson also argued that prosecutors breached Conley’s plea agreement by seeking a longer sentence than the maximum outlined under sentencing guidelines.
In the response filed this week, Boone argued Conley’s appeal should be dismissed because he had waived his right to such an action.
Boone also argued Van Tatenhove made sure Conley understood the elements of his crime before accepting his plea.
Conley told the judge during that hearing that he had looked up the law and “done a lot of study” on it, and admitted he had wrongfully accepted money.
“I do that with a clear mind, an open mind and an understanding mind,” Conley said during the hearing.
Boone also said it was proper for Van Tatenhove to order Conley to pay restitution of $104,000 to the state and $26,000 to the county based on what he received in kickbacks on the bridge projects.
The work cost more than it would have without the scheme, Boone argued.
Conley, 51, is serving his sentence at a federal prison in West Virginia. He is scheduled for release in July 2021.
Gambill and his wife, Ruth, pleaded guilty and were sentenced to home detention.