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Jury seated in trial of Lawson and Nighbert

A jury was seated Monday in Lexington for the big-rigging trial of road contractor Leonard Lawson and former Transportation Secretary Bill Nighbert.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers announced the witnesses expected to testify, including two governors, Steve Beshear and his predecessor, Ernie Fletcher; state Senate President David Williams; former Kentucky League of Cities President Sylvia Lovely; current and former Transportation Cabinet officials, and several road contractors.

Opening arguments are set for Tuesday. The trial, in U.S. District Court, is scheduled to last at least three weeks.

Prosecutors say Nighbert and Lawson rigged $130 million in state road projects in 2006 and 2007 during the Fletcher administration. They say Nighbert arranged for confidential Transportation Cabinet bid estimates to be leaked to Lawson, which allowed him to submit profitable bids that would not be disqualified for being too high.

Lawson, 70, and Nighbert, 58, have pleaded not guilty.

The prosecution's chief witness is Jim Rummage, who served as Nighbert's deputy state highway engineer. Rummage says Nighbert told him to deliver the bid estimates, sometimes in exchange for payments from Lawson.

When Nighbert resigned at the end of the Fletcher administration, a company that Lawson co-owns, Utility Management Group, gave Nighbert a "consulting" position that came with a yearly salary of $125,000, a $34,500 Toyota Avalon and medical insurance for him and his wife, prosecutors say.

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