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Former highway official got salary and retirement




FRANKFORT

A former official at the center of a federal probe into the awarding of Kentucky highway projects was collecting salary and retirement benefits from the state Transportation Cabinet, a newspaper reported.

Former highway engineer James W. Rummage was rehired as a consultant two months after he retired last year and got a raise before retiring, The Courier- Journal in Louisville reported Tuesday.

Then-Transportation Secretary Bill Nighbert — who is also under scrutiny of investigators — approved both the raise and the rehiring, according to Rummage’s personnel file.

An FBI affidavit filed last week claims Rummage gave confidential cost estimates for road projects to a prominent road contractor, Leonard Lawson of Lexington.

Rummage referred questions to his attorney, Marc Murphy, whom The Courier-Journal could not reach for comment. A call by The Associated Press to Murphy on Tuesday was not immediately returned.

FBI agent T. Clay Mason said in the affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in London that he has been investigating allegations of corruption in the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet for more than a year.

The Courier-Journal and The Times-Tribune of Corbin first reported on the FBI affidavit on Aug. 9.

Mason said in the affidavit that the probe centers on whether Nighbert or Kentucky road contractor Leonard Lawson directed a former state highway engineer to provide confidential cost estimates for road contracts in 2006 and 2007. Such estimates are supposed to be secret until sealed bids for proposed construction projects are opened.

Nighbert’s attorney, Howard Mann, has called the allegations “false and baseless” and said his client “has not done anything wrong.”

Lawson’s attorney, Larry Mackey, previously called the FBI agent’s sworn statement “a collection of innuendo and suspicions and should have never been made public.” He has declined to comment further.

The newspaper report said that although Rummage told his bosses he planned to retire at the end of August 2007 at age 48, he received a special 10 percent raise on Aug. 16, increasing his pay about $12,000 to $129,919.

The newspaper reported that he worked only two weeks at the higher salary, but such a raise would increase his retirement benefit and cause his payout to increase by 10 percent.

About two months later, Nighbert recommended that Rummage be rehired in a different position at a salary of $95,000 a year. Rummage had to sign a statement that he did not have a “prearranged agreement” to return to work for the department.

Rummage resigned from the position on March 31, soon after agreeing to cooperate with the FBI investigation into the alleged leaking of cost estimates.

Mann, Nighbert’s attorney, also has said it is implausible to think that Rummage and Nighbert would be part of conspiracy because Rummage was once targeted for firing or demotion. His name was on a list of targeted employees that was disclosed during an investigation of improper political influence in hiring, including within the Transportation Cabinet during the administration of Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

That probe resulted in more than a dozen indictments against Fletcher and his associates for allegedly violating state hiring laws by favoring Republicans over Democrats for protected state jobs. In a deal Fletcher worked out with prosecutors, the charges against him dismissed in 2006. He had pardoned the associates in 2005.


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