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Bid-rigging trial is moved

FRANKFORT — A federal judge has moved a much-anticipated trial involving the alleged tampering of more than $130 million in state road contracts.

The trial, originally scheduled to be in Frankfort, has been moved to Covington.

Lawyers for road contractor Leonard Lawson, former transportation secretary Bill Nighbert and Lawson employee Brian Billings had argued that pre-trial publicity surrounding the case could prejudice a Frankfort jury pool.

U.S. District Judge Danny Reeves, in an opinion released Monday, said he granted the motion in part because about 47 percent of Franklin County residents work for either state or local government and have probably heard about the case. Conversely, only 12 percent of the people in Kenton County are government employees, Reeves wrote.

Lawson and Nighbert have been charged with conspiring to tamper with more than $130 million in road contracts during former Gov. Ernie Fletcher's administration.

The indictment alleges that Lawson paid cash to a transportation employee for internal cost estimates on road projects that Lawson's construction companies were set to bid on, giving Lawson an edge over competitors.

Billings has been charged with obstruction of justice. All three have pleaded not guilty.

The trial is set to begin April 28. However, lawyers for Nighbert have asked Reeves to push back the trial an additional 60 to 120 days. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Taylor urged Reeves to deny the request.

"This motion comes in the context of what has been dubbed the 'scorched earth' defense strategy," Taylor wrote in a motion filed Friday. "That is a plan to obfuscate, delay, distract, distort and harass to make the prosecution as long, costly and as difficult as possible in the hope of winning a battle of attrition."

Lawson has added Frankfort attorney Guthrie True to his team of defense lawyers.