Recording in Kentucky Bid Rigging Case Remains Secret

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - A secret recording that has become a focal
point in a federal bid-rigging investigation will remain secret, at
least for now.

The digital recording has been the subject of a fattening file
of legal briefs in the case against Lexington construction
contractor Leonard Lawson, former state Transportation Secretary
Bill Nighbert and Lawson aide Brian Russell Billings.

The three were indicted Sept. 3 on charges of conspiracy,
misapplication of property and obstruction of justice after a
yearlong FBI probe into the awarding of some $130 million worth of
state highway construction contracts.

U.S. Magistrate Judge James Todd warned defense attorneys on
Tuesday that publicly releasing the recorded conversation between a
prosecutor, federal investigator and a witness would be dealt with

"They are restricted from revealing that information to anyone
outside the defense team," Todd said at a hearing at the federal
courthouse in Lexington. "I don't expect any leaking to any
source, media or otherwise."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Taylor, the lead prosecutor on
the case, unintentionally gave defense attorneys a copy of the
recording that allegedly captured Taylor and a federal investigator
"coaching" a witness, former Transportation Cabinet employee Jim
Rummage, on what to say during a telephone call. Taylor later asked
for the recording back.

Defense attorneys argue that the recording is important evidence
that they want to use at trial. Todd left that decision to be made
later by U.S. District Judge Danny Reeves, who will preside at the

Lawson attorney Larry Mackey said in court briefs that the
recording is significant because it occurred on the same day that
Rummage placed two calls to his client. Mackey said Rummage
"likely received similar instructions to lie and induce misleading
statements" prior to the phone conversations with Lawson.

Taylor said in a written response that he and federal
investigators did nothing "improper, sinister or untoward" in
advising Rummage on what to say during he call.

"Deceit, deception, lying, cover stories and subterfuge are not
only permissible law enforcement techniques, they are time-honored,
desirable and indispensable," Taylor wrote, pointing to cases in
which investigators go undercover posing as criminals to gather

Taylor said in his response that defense lawyers appear to be
attempting to influence public opinion. He contends they are trying
to create "an aura of misconduct that does not exist."

Todd postponed the trial by some 5 months to give defense
attorneys more time to prepare. It had been set to begin in

"I do not have a firm date at this time, but anticipate that it
will be in the latter part of April," he said.

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

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