Lawyers: Access to witnesses limited

Defense attorneys for three men charged in connection with a scheme to tamper with $130 million in state road contracts say the federal government is keeping its investigators from interviewing witnesses in the case.

Lawyers for road contractor Leonard Lawson also say an April jury scheduled to hear arguments in the case should not be presented evidence involving Lawson's political donations because the information is irrelevant and could prejudice a jury.

Lawson, former Transportation Secretary Bill Nighbert and Lawson employee Brian Billings were indicted in September on a host of charges including conspiracy, bribery, obstruction of justice and witness tampering.

In defense motions filed Wednesday, lawyers for the three men say that their investigator has been blocked from speaking to various witnesses, including current Transportation Cabinet employees.

Lawyers for the three men also want part of the indictment against their clients dismissed, saying there was not enough evidence to charge them with witness tampering.

Meanwhile, prosecutors in the case have filed a motion saying that they violated no rules when an FBI affidavit attached to a search warrant was left unsealed at a London courthouse 30 days before the September indictment of the three men. Information from that indictment was used in several news stories.

Defense lawyers filed a motion last month saying that the charges should be dismissed because prosecutors violated grand jury secrecy when the search warrant — which contained details of the investigation — was not sealed.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Taylor, in a motion filed earlier this week, said that it is customary for judges to unseal a search warrant after the warrant is executed. Furthermore, Taylor said, the defense's argument that publicity pressured the grand jury to indict "is ludicrous."

James Rummage, a former state engineer, has said Lawson paid him $20,000 in cash for internal cabinet estimates involving contracts that Lawson's companies were set to bid on. Nighbert allegedly directed Rummage to obtain those estimates for Lawson.