FRANKFORT, KY -- As the FBI investigates possible corruption in Kentucky road contracts, it’s returning to ground that federal prosecutors plowed for five years — and then abandoned after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader in its Sunday edition.
Beginning in 1997, the U.S. Justice Department Antitrust Division assigned at least eight attorneys, plus U.S. attorneys in Lexington, FBI agents in Louisville and grand juries in Lexington and Covington, to a massive investigation of Kentucky road contractors, according to federal records obtained by the Herald-Leader.
The case focused on politically connected road contractor Leonard Lawson — who is at the center of the current FBI investigation — and other industry leaders. It lasted from Dec. 3, 1997, to sometime after Sept. 6, 2001, records indicate.
In letters to grand jury witnesses, some of whom were promised immunity for their testimony, prosecutors said they were looking for violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act by ”the asphalt paving industry“ in Kentucky since 1990, reports the Herald Leader. They cited the part of the law prohibiting ”agreements, conspiracies or trusts in restraint of trade.“
In 1983, some of the same Antitrust Division prosecutors won felony convictions against two Kentucky road-building companies, including Lawson’s Mountain Enterprises, for that same offense. They had conspired to allocate state road contracts among themselves, rather than compete and submit lower bids. Lawson’s firm paid a $150,000 fine.
The more recent case ended sometime after Sept. 6, 2001. As of that date, prosecutors in the Antitrust Division’s regional field office in Cleveland were asking the U.S. attorney’s office in Lexington for assistance in gathering still more witnesses, the newspaper reports.
No reasons or date were given for the case’s termination. Despite years of work, no actions apparently were taken, no conclusions were drawn and no report was issued, according to records.
In March 2002, prosecutors simply informed lawyers for more than a dozen road contractors that the investigation was over, so they were welcome to retrieve the many boxes of records subpoenaed for the grand jury.
The records obtained by the Herald-Leader under the Freedom of Information Act were heavily redacted to conceal the identities of the potential targets, reports the newspaper.
However, newspaper stories about Lawson — and only Lawson — were placed in the Justice Department file, including stories that explored his political friendships in Washington and Frankfort and his success at winning lucrative single-bid asphalt contracts.
In a 2005 interview with the Herald-Leader, Lawson confirmed that he was one of the contractors investigated by the Justice Department in the case, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.
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