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Kentucky Investigates Former Transportation Head

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky transportation officials have
begun an internal investigation into allegations of bid-rigging and
plan to share any information with federal investigators.

Secretary Joe Prather said the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet's
inspector general is looking at former Secretary Bill Nighbert
"and others." Prather said the state investigation is in
conjunction with an ongoing FBI probe.

"We are sharing all information in the cabinet having to do
with the overall investigation with the FBI," Prather told
reporters on the state Capitol steps. "And our inspector general
is working in concert with them on ways that we in the cabinet can
be helpful, and so they are aware of the investigation."

The Lexington Herald-Leader first reported the ongoing internal
transportation probe on Thursday.

The Courier-Journal of Louisville reported in its Friday
editions that under investigation are 22 road contracts whose bids
were above cost estimates but were awarded in 2006 and 2007 over
the objections of transportation department experts.

"When (the experts) were asked to look at it, they said, 'No,
we can't recommend award,"' Gilbert Newman, the engineer, was
quoted as saying in the Courier-Journal. "But it was awarded."

An FBI agent filed an affidavit in U.S. District Court in London
earlier this month that says a federal investigation into alleged
bid-rigging in the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has been ongoing
for more than a year.

A call to Nighbert's attorney Howard Mann on Thursday was not
returned.

Kentucky road contractor Leonard Lawson was also mentioned in
the FBI affidavit. Lawson's attorney Larry Mackey has said the FBI
document should not have been made public and claimed it contained
"a collection of innuendo and suspicions." Mackey did not have a
comment Thursday on the Transportation Cabinet's internal probe.

Gov. Steve Beshear said earlier this week that the FBI had
interviewed him about alleged improprieties in how the previous
administration awarded highway construction contracts. Beshear has
said his administration is cooperating with federal investigators.

The transportation agency - which manages millions of dollars
worth of Kentucky's yearly road construction projects - had its
share of legal and ethical problems in recent years that Beshear
dubbed "a culture of corruption."

A special grand jury probe into alleged improper hiring by
Fletcher administration officials resulted in Fletcher's indictment
on misdemeanor corruption charges, along with more than a dozen of
his associates. Fletcher's charges were dropped in a deal with
state prosecutors and the former governor pardoned anyone who could
be charged in relation to the probe.

FBI agent T. Clay Mason said in an affidavit filed in U.S.
District Court in London earlier this month that the current
investigation is looking at whether Nighbert or others improperly
handled confidential cost estimates on road construction projects
in 2006 and 2007.

Prather said a new element to the investigation has arisen in
the "last couple days," but declined to offer specifics.
Nevertheless, Prather said he hoped problems have ceased within the
agency.

"The process is not flawed," Prather said. "It happened to be
that, allegedly, some people who were involved in the process were
flawed."


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