Prosecutors argue against allowing former Morgan County official to appeal his guilty plea

Former Morgan County Judge-Executive Tim Conley’s appeal of his guilty plea in a corruption case should be dismissed, a federal prosecutor has argued.

Conley waived his right to appeal his plea and conviction as part of the deal, in which the government dismissed some charges, Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles P. Wisdom Jr. said in a motion.

Conley, 50, pleaded guilty in August 2014 to mail fraud in a scheme in which he took $130,000 in kickbacks from a contractor.

U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove sentenced Conley in January to seven years and three months in prison and ordered him to pay $130,000 in restitution. He is scheduled for release in July 2021.

Conley’s current attorney, Jerry Anderson, argued in a motion to the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that Conley did not understand each element of the mail-fraud crime.

Conley is seeking to set aside his plea and get a hearing to enter a new guilty plea, which would allow him to argue for less prison time.

Conley demanded kickbacks from the contractor in the wake of a March 2012 tornado that killed six people in the county.

The charge on which Conley pleaded guilty said that he sent a letter to the state in August 2013 seeking funding for three bridges and that he had extorted $45,000 in bribes from the contractor for those projects.

It’s not clear that Conley understood he was admitting intent to use the mail to commit fraud, according to his appeal.

Conley’s appeal also argued that federal prosecutors breached his plea deal by seeking a longer sentence than the maximum outlined under advisory sentencing guidelines.

The guidelines set out a range of prison time for Conley of five years and 10 months on the low end up to seven years and three months, or 87 months. Conley agreed not to appeal a sentence of 87 months or less.

After Conley pleaded guilty, prosecutors asked Van Tatenhove to sentence him to more than 11 years.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew T. Boone argued that the longer sentence was justified because Conley’s conduct was especially egregious, in part because he demanded kickbacks from the contractor in the wake of a March 2012 tornado that killed six people in the county.

Boone also argued that Conley initiated the kickback scheme and demanded more money as it went on, and seemed unwilling to accept that his actions were wrong even after he got caught.

Conley refused to resign as judge-executive, continuing to collect his salary while awaiting sentencing.

Defense attorneys argued that Conley should receive a sentence shorter than the recommended range, in part because he used much of the kickback money to help others.

Among other things, Conley gave money to cancer patients and people who were out of work, and donated $10,000 to pay utility bills for people after the tornado.

Van Tatenhove said at sentencing that he gave Conley credit for good things he’d done.

But Conley’s appeal argued he would have gotten a sentence shorter than 87 months if prosecutors had not asked for even more prison time.

Wisdom argued in a response filed last week that when Conley admitted guilt, Conley acknowledged he understood the plea deal — including the elements of the crime and the agreement not to appeal— and that he signed it voluntarily.

Conley said during the plea hearing that he had looked up the law pertaining to his case and that his attorneys had given him a lot to study.

Conley said he was pleading guilty “with a clear mind, an open mind and an understanding mind,” Wisdom said.

The fact that Conley is dissatisfied with his 87-month sentence does not affect the validity of his pledge not to appeal, Wisdom wrote.

A guilty plea can be reversed only if the court violates a substantial right of a defendant, and that didn’t happen in Conley’s case, Wisdom argued.

The request by prosecutors for a much longer sentence for Conley did not breach the plea deal, the government said in its response.

The contractor involved in Conley’s case was Kenneth Gambill. Conley opened bids on county bridge projects in private and changed Gambill’s bids to make sure his company won the contracts, then Conley took part of the payment.

Conley took kickbacks on at least 14 bridge jobs from 2009 to 2013. Gambill and his wife, Ruth, pleaded guilty and were sentenced to home detention.