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Lawson seeks secret recordings

Defense lawyers for indicted road contractor Leonard Lawson filed a motion Friday asking federal prosecutors to turn over conversations secretly recorded by their star witness on his personal cell phone.

This is the second time since Lawson was indicted Sept. 3 that there have been questions about what recordings defense lawyers might seek.

Lawson, former Transportation Secretary Bill Nighbert and a former Lawson employee, Brian Billings, were indicted on charges that they tampered with the bidding process for $130 million in state road contracts in 2006 and 2007, during former Gov. Ernie Fletcher's administration. All three have pleaded not guilty.

James Rummage, a former transportation employee, secretly recorded conversations he had with Lawson and Billings on behalf of prosecutors. Rummage has said he received $20,000 in cash for providing Lawson with internal cabinet estimates on road projects. The indictment includes several pages of taped conversations between Rummage and Lawson. Rummage has not been charged, and his lawyer has said he has no deal with prosecutors.

Those taped conversations included in the indictment were previously turned over to defense attorneys.

But according to court documents, defense lawyers discovered during a Sept. 30 meeting with prosecutors and Rummage that the star witness had made 14 recordings on his personal cell phone. Defense attorneys asked for all 14 recordings. They received all but one of those, court documents say. The final recording was not subject to federal discovery rules, defense lawyers were told by prosecutors.

Also this week, federal prosecutors filed court documents saying that they no longer object to letting defense lawyers have part of a separate recording that included a conversation between prosecutors and investigators and Rummage. They had originally demanded it be returned.

Prosecutors now say they would settle for a protective order precluding further use or dissemination of the tape for any purpose.

Defense attorneys had fought to keep the recording, saying it showed that prosecutors coached Rummage on what to say during meetings between himself and Lawson and Billings.

Prosecutors said there was nothing improper in their conversations with Rummage and noted that "deceit, deception, lying, cover stories and subterfuge are not only permissible law enforcement techniques, they are time-honored, desirable and indispensable."

U.S. Magistrate Judge James B. Todd will hold a hearing next week concerning the audio recordings and whether the Nov. 12 trial will be delayed.