Franklin County

Nighbert is target of state inquiry

FRANKFORT — The state Transportation Cabinet's watchdog agency is investigating former Secretary Bill Nighbert, who is also a target in an FBI investigation of alleged bid rigging.

Among those investigating Nighbert in the cabinet's Office of Inspector General is a man once ordered fired by Nighbert.

The office has been headed since 2004 by David Ray, a retired secret service agent. His staff assistant is Mike Duncan.

Last year, the state Personnel Board reversed the 2005 firing of Duncan, whose termination was at the crux of a special Franklin County grand jury's investigation into hiring practices in former Gov. Ernie Fletcher's administration.

Neither Nighbert nor his attorney, Howard O. Mann, of Corbin, could be reached last night for comment.

The cabinet denied a request by the Herald-Leader for a copy of an inspector general's report on the investigation of Nighbert.

In denying the request, records custodian Ann Stansel wrote that there is “an open investigation” concerning Nighbert.

Stansel, citing state law, said documents produced by the investigation are not available for public inspection until it has been completed.

The Inspector General's office investigates suspected wrongdoing in the cabinet. It presents any findings of criminal violation to state or federal authorities for possible prosecution.

The Herald-Leader has previously reported that the inspector general's office is investigating James Rummage, a former highway district engineer and later a deputy chief highway district engineer, who oversaw the division that calculated cost estimates of road projects.

An affidavit filed last Friday in U.S. District Court in London by an FBI agent accuses politically influential road contractor Leonard Lawson of paying $20,000 to Rummage in exchange for confidential cost estimates of state road projects.

The sworn statement said investigators are exploring whether Nighbert facilitated the release of the bid estimates to Lawson.

No charges have been filed and Nighbert and Lawson deny any suggestion of wrongdoing.

Earlier Wednesday, Mann, Nighbert's attorney, said it was an oversight that Nighbert did not list on a required state financial disclosure form last December his ties to Double Buck LLC, a business involved in the FBI investigation.

Mann added that information about Nighbert's ties with the company has been on public file with the secretary of state's office since February 2007.

“Bill Nighbert has nothing to hide,” Mann said.

Nighbert was supposed to list Double Buck on the 2007 personal financial disclosure form he filed last Dec. 10 with the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.

State law requires state officials to file an annual disclosure form that lists any business in which they or their spouses own an interest that has a value of at least $10,000 or at least 5 percent of the business.

Nighbert and his brother, Edwin Nighbert, each own 50 percent of Double Buck — a company that was organized Feb. 6, 2007, according to the secretary of state's office.

Mann noted that Nighbert filed his report for the ethics commission on his last day as transportation secretary.

Nighbert listed holdings in four Williamsburg businesses — Whitley Broadcasting, AABG Corp., Whitley Pharmacy and Gaithers Inc. — on the disclosure form, but not Double Buck.

The FBI affidavit says a company called Utility Management Group paid Nighbert $36,050 through a business called Two Bucks LLC. The business actually is named Double Buck, Mann said.

Nighbert's failure to list Double Buck on his financial disclosure form could lead to an investigation by the ethics commission. If the commission determines a violation has occurred, it could reprimand Nighbert or fine him up to $5,000.

Mann said the purpose of organizing Double Buck was for the Nighberts to buy a hunting farm in Washington County.

According to records in the Washington County property valuation administrator's office, Double Buck LLC bought a 95-acre farm in a remote area in the northern part of the county on Tatham Springs Road in February 2007 from James Wells. It is assessed at $200,000.

The Double Buck farm adjoins a 152-acre site with a cabin at 1899 Sulphur Lick Road owned by Edwin and Sharon Nighbert and William and Victoria Childress, said the county PVA office. It is valued at $135,000.