Two people who admitted paying kickbacks to Morgan County Judge-Executive Tim Conley to get contracts will not go to prison. Rather, they will serve home detention for a crime the judge said undermined trust in government.
U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove sentenced Kenneth Lee Gambill, 73, to nine months of home detention and his wife, Ruth Gambill, 57, to four months of home detention.
The two also have paid a significant financial penalty, which Van Tatenhove said played a role in his sentencing decision. They were liable with Conley for a $130,000 judgment, according to court records.
Conley has pleaded guilty in the case and is to be sentenced Jan. 6. His plea agreement says he won't appeal any sentence of up to seven years and three months in prison.
Conley and the Gambills took part in a bid-rigging scheme — which Conley devised — that went on for more than four years, according to court documents and arguments.
The Gambills had a company in Magoffin County called PBTHNOJJ Construction, which stood for Praise Be the Holy Name of Jesus and Jehovah Construction. Kenneth Gambill bid on county bridge-building contracts and other work in Morgan County.
Conley admitted that in a number of cases, he secretly opened bids from Gambill and others and lowered Gambill's bid to make sure he won the jobs.
In return, Conley demanded that Gambill kick back part of the money to him.
For instance, Gambill got contracts to build a total of six bridges in 2012 and 2013 and paid Conley $15,000 on each job, according to a court document.
All told, Conley got between $120,000 and $200,000 in kickbacks in about four years, according to a court document.
Gambill told Van Tatenhove that at first, he understood that he was giving Conley political contributions.
"I got caught up with Tim Conley, giving him political contributions, and kept a-going on," Gambill said.
Defense attorneys Mark Wohlander, who represented Kenneth Gambill, and James Lowry IV, who represented Ruth Gambill, urged Van Tatenhove not to put the two in prison.
Conley held the power in a scheme in which the Gambills had to pay to get work, defense attorneys said.
"They were taken advantage of," Lowry said.
Wohlander said taxpayers didn't lose because Kenneth Gambill built the bridges, but that in the end, Gambill and his wife saw no profit from the work or the kickback scheme.
"They've lost everything. They've been punished," Wohlander said.
In addition to other penalties, the Gambills won't be able to get construction jobs paid for by the state or federal governments.
The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew T. Boone, acknowledged that the Gambills have lost their life savings, and that Conley had squeezed Kenneth Gambill and siphoned off most of the profits from the bid-rigging. "He abused that position for years to steal money," Boone said of Conley, a Republican first elected in 2002.
But Boone argued for prison time for the couple, saying Conley couldn't have carried out the scheme without their help in laundering the money.
Van Tatenhove said he had wrestled with whether it was appropriate to put the Gambills in prison, in part because of their role compared to Conley's.
The judge said Conley had benefited in an "extraordinarily greedy way," and in some ways had preyed on the Gambills.
But Van Tatenhove said Kenneth Gambill knew the kickbacks were not political contributions, and that the crime had tarnished the trust people should be able to have in their government.
Van Tatenhove said the idea that pay-to-play contracts are simply part of doing business diminishes a serious crime. People need to stand up against that corruption, he said. "We need people in that environment to say no," he said.