Former Transportation Sec'y Charged By Ethics Board

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- The Executive Branch Ethics Commission charged former Transportation Secretary Bill Nighbert yesterday with violating the state ethics code by failing to disclose his part ownership of a company that federal authorities allege was part of a bribery scheme, reports The Louisville Courier-Journal in its Saturday edition.

The charge involves Nighbert's interest in a business called Double Buck LLC, which he failed to list in a disclosure form he filed for 2007 -- his last year as transportation secretary during Gov. Ernie Fletcher's administration.

Nighbert could not be reached for comment yesterday. His attorney, Howard Mann of Corbin, said the failure to list the business was an oversight and that Nighbert was not trying to conceal anything, reports the C-J.

The state ethics code requires that executive branch officials disclose to the commission each year the names of businesses in which they have an interest of at least $10,000 or 5 percent.

The goal is to guard against conflicts of interest involving officials' public responsibilities and their personal financial matters, the C.J. reports.

The ethics charge against Nighbert was returned by a unanimous vote of the five-member commission, and he has 20 days to file a response. Evidence in such cases is gathered by a hearing officer who makes a recommendation for final action to the commission.

If the commission finds that Nighbert violated the ethics code, it may fine him up to $5,000.

In September, a federal grand jury indicted Nighbert on charges of bribery, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. The bribery charge alleges that he received $67,251 in payments from a company called Utility Management Group LLC, of Pikeville, in exchange for his role in helping to leak confidential bid information to road contractor Leonard Lawson, the newspaper reports.

The payments to Nighbert allegedly were made out to "Two Bucks LLC," according to an FBI affidavit. However, Mann has said the company name is actually Double Buck.

The Courier-Journal reported in August that, according to records filed with the secretary of state's office, Nighbert owned 50 percent of Double Buck but had not disclosed it -- or Two Bucks LLC -- on his ethics form, reprots the newspaper.

Along with Nighbert, the Sept. 3 federal indictment charged Lawson with conspiracy, bribery and obstruction of justice. Brian Billings, an employee of a Lawson company, was charged with obstruction.

All have pleaded not guilty, and their trial is scheduled for April 28, reports The Louisville Courier-Journal.

Copyright - The Louisville Courier-Journal

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