State

Imprisoned former Eastern Kentucky official loses bid to set aside corruption plea

Former Morgan County Judge-Executive Tim Conley in his office in West Liberty in February 2013. Before his conviction, Conley handled contracts for rebuilding after a deadly and destructive tornado struck Morgan County.
Former Morgan County Judge-Executive Tim Conley in his office in West Liberty in February 2013. Before his conviction, Conley handled contracts for rebuilding after a deadly and destructive tornado struck Morgan County. cbertram@herald-leader.com

A federal judge has denied a request to set aside the conviction of former Morgan County Judge-Executive Tim Conley in a corruption case.

U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove rejected Conley’s argument that a U.S. Supreme Court decision returned after Conley was sentenced invalidated the conviction.

Van Tatenhove also declined to issue a certificate allowing Conley to appeal the decision.

That means Conley would need U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals’ permission before challenging Van Tatenhove’s ruling.

Conley’s attorney, Kent Wicker, said he was reviewing the options with Conley and his family.

Conley, 52, pleaded guilty in 2014 to taking at least $130,000 from a contractor who had bid on county construction jobs.

Conley solicited kickbacks from the contractor, Kenneth Gambill, and rigged bids so Gambill received work from the county.

Conley opened bids from Gambill and competitors in secret and changed Gambill’s bid before submitting the quotes to magistrates for a vote on awarding contracts.

Conley pleaded guilty to mail fraud, based on mailing documents related to the scheme.

Van Tatenhove sentenced Conley to seven years and three months in prison in January 2015.

Conley later asked to set aside the plea, arguing that he hadn’t fully understood the elements of mail fraud, but the federal appeals court denied the request.

The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently handed down a ruling that narrowed the scope of acts required to justify a federal corruption conviction.

That ruling was in a case involving former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell.

Conley tried again to get his plea set aside based on the ruling, arguing that the actions he took in his kickback case didn’t qualify as a crime under the narrower standard.

The Supreme Court said a public official has to take official action on a matter to justify a conviction for taking a kickback.

Wicker argued that fraudulently altering a contractor’s bid can’t be an official act and did not qualify under the mail-fraud law.

U.S. Magistate Judge Robert E. Wier rejected the argument, saying Conley’s contention “would spare from prosecution the worst of public fraudsters.”

Van Tatenhove, who had the final say on Conley’s request, adopted Wier’s ruling.

Van Tatenhove said Conley provided the altered bids to the fiscal court intending that his advice would lead the court to take official action.

Prosecutors met the requirements for Conley’s mail-fraud conviction even under the standard the Supreme Court set out in the McDonnell case, Van Tatenhove said.

Conley is serving his sentence at a prison in West Virginia. He is scheduled to be released in July 2021.

  Comments