Editorials

Stiff sentence for dirty judge-exec

Tim Conley 
also must pay restitution of $130,000 to the state and Morgan County.
Tim Conley also must pay restitution of $130,000 to the state and Morgan County.

Here's hoping U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove will start the new year off right on Tuesday and give former Morgan County Judge-Executive Tim Conley the extra-large sentence requested by the prosecutor in Conley's public-corruption case.

Although Conley deserves it, a severe sentence would serve more than vengeance against this cynical so-called public servant.

At a time when SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region) a broad, collaborative effort to create a prosperous future in the hills, is working to gain traction, such a punishment would send a message that public corruption is no longer accepted as a homey, predictable way of life in Eastern Kentucky.

And that's what it's been.

From 2002 through 2011, the U.S. Justice Department reported 237 public-corruption convictions in the Eastern District of Kentucky, compared to 65 in the state's Western District.

Endemic corruption takes a toll not just on government spending and services but on the entire economy and culture.

The United Nations describes corruption as something that "deepens poverty, debases human rights, degrades the environment and derails development (including private sector development) by creating disincentives for investment."

And Conley is a particularly offensive example. He not only didn't resign from office after pleading guilty to mail fraud but actually sought re-election. Although rebuffed at the polls, he stayed in office and continued collecting his salary. He even demonstrated his executive skill by organizing an extortion scheme himself rather than waiting for contractors to come to him with bribes.

Finally, adding insult to injury, Conley insisted he collected the money only so he could redistribute it to needy constituents.

According to court records, Conley took at least $130,000 in kickbacks from a contractor between 2009 and 2013. This, of course, cost the county money that could have been used to provide services.

For example, the contractor with whom he was working had bid $41,900 on a bridge contract and the next lowest competitor had bid $70,000.

Conley, who opened the bids in secret, upped his collaborator's bid to $61,900, making more money available for kickback, Boone said. More money for Conley, less for the citizens who elected him.

Conley's defense attorney says five years and 10 months would be an appropriate sentence but that Conley won't appeal seven years and three months, the top sentence under federal guidelines.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew T. Boone asked in a motion for a sentence of 11 years and four months. Conley's actions reflect, "a level of callousness and deception that can destroy public confidence in government," Boone wrote.

Agreed.

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