- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

PIKEVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Trial has begun for a former state lawmaker accused of secretly paying tens of thousands of dollars to a mine inspector in 2009 and 2010 “so he could have that inspector in his back pocket if he needed it,” according to a federal prosecutor.

The Lexington Herald-Leader (https://bit.ly/1FyBmrd) reports W. Keith Hall’s trial began Monday. The 55-year-old Hall, who is accused of bribery, served 14 years as a Democratic state representative from Phelps until his defeat in a 2014 primary. The federal prosecutor says Hall, who owned coal mines in Pike County, issued the bribes in 2009 and 2010.

Mine inspector Kelly Shortridge, who was assigned to Hall’s surface mines from the Pikeville office of the state Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement, has pleaded guilty to soliciting a bribe. The 24-year veteran mine inspector awaits sentencing this summer, after he testifies against Hall.

In his opening statement, defense attorney Bryce Caldwell acknowledged that Hall sometimes paid money to Shortridge, but he said those payments were for legitimate business deals on which the men cooperated.

“There is no disputing payments were made to Mr. Shortridge,” Caldwell said. “But they were not for an unlawful purpose. He never asked Kelly Shortridge to not do his job. He never asked him to not enforce the reclamation and enforcement laws.”

As described by federal prosecutors, Shortridge habitually missed or ignored violations on his assignments, accepted bribes from Hall and wrongfully solicited “tens of thousands of dollars” from people as donations for a youth basketball team with which he wasn’t affiliated, actually keeping the money for himself.

“He only wrote up Hall’s mines when he had no other choice,” the prosecutor said, such as when rocks blasted from the site crashed into a nearby home, or supervisors were following closely behind Shortridge to check his work.

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