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KY Engineer Interviewed For FBI Highway Contracts Probe

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - The FBI has interviewed an engineer who was closely involved with state highway contracts as part of an investigation of Transportation Cabinet procedures when Ernie Fletcher was governor.

Engineer James W. Rummage didn't want to talk about the probe and his attorney, Marc Murphy, wouldn't give any details Friday about the FBI's interview, The Courier-Journal of Louisville reported. Rummage oversaw the state's highway contracting process in 2005-07. He resigned from the department March 31.

Last month, Transportation Secretary Joe Prather confirmed the FBI was investigating incidents that occurred in the cabinet during Fletcher's administration. Fletcher ran for re-election last year but lost.

Prather said his cabinet is cooperating with investigators. He declined this past week to elaborate on what he knows about the investigation. "I just know it's ongoing," he said.

Marcelyn Mathews, a high-ranking engineer in the cabinet, said last month that the FBI questioned her about whether cost estimates of projects had been leaked to contractors before bids were submitted on contracts. She said she was unaware of any such leaks.

Before a road construction project is put out to bid, Highway Department engineers make their own confidential estimate of the cost. The aim is to better determine whether bids on the project are reasonable. These estimates are revealed when bids from contractors are opened. The department follows a nonbinding policy of rejecting all bids if the low bid is more than 7 percent over the estimate.

Knowing an engineer's estimate in advance could be valuable to a contractor who knows he is likely to be the only bidder. In such a situation, the contractor could bid as much as 7 percent over the estimate and still likely get the contract.

From Jan. 1, 2005, through Aug. 31, 2007, Rummage was a deputy state highway engineer who oversaw divisions of construction procurement, construction and materials, according to his state personnel file.

He retired from state government Aug. 31, making an annual salary of $129,919. But on Nov. 1 he was rehired by the state at a salary of $95,000 to work as chief engineer for the Lexington district.

Bill Nighbert, transportation secretary during most of the Fletcher administration, said all he knows about the investigation is what he's read in newspapers. "I haven't talked to them. I honestly don't know what's going on," said Nighbert, who now works on the staff of Senate President David Williams.

Nighbert said he did not know why Rummage left the cabinet March 31.
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Information from: The Courier-Journal,
http://www.courier-journal.com

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-05-24-08 1154EDT


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