- Associated Press - Saturday, October 31, 2015

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - The former top official of an eastern Kentucky county ravaged by a 2012 tornado has asked for a new plea hearing in his federal corruption case in hopes of having his sentence reduced.

An appellate attorney for former Morgan County Judge-Executive Tim Conley filed a motion Friday asking that Conley’s guilty plea be set aside and a new hearing be scheduled for Conley to re-enter a guilty plea, the Lexington Herald-Leader (https://bit.ly/1NIRygU) reported.

Conley pleaded guilty last year to mail fraud in a scheme in which he shook down a contractor for $130,000 in kickbacks.

U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove sentenced Conley to seven years and three months in prison.

If the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals rules for Conley, he could argue for a lower sentence during new proceedings.

The appeal argues that Conley did not understand each element of the mail-fraud crime on which he pleaded guilty.

One element is that Conley had a specific intent to commit fraud and used the mail to further the crime.

The charge on which Conley pleaded guilty said he sent a letter to the state in August 2013 seeking funding for three bridges, and that he had extorted $45,000 in bribes from the contractor for those projects.

It’s not clear Conley understood he was admitting he intended to use the mail to commit the fraud, according to his appeal motion.

“Conley did not admit he intended to commit a fraud when he mailed the letter requesting funds for various bridges,” according to the motion prepared by Conley’s attorney, Jerry Anderson.

The motion also argues that federal prosecutors breached Conley’s plea deal by seeking a sentence higher than the maximum outlined under advisory federal guidelines.

After Conley pleaded guilty, prosecutors asked Van Tatenhove to sentence him to more than 11 years.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew T. Boone argued the longer sentence was justified because Conley’s conduct was especially egregious.

One reason was that he demanded kickbacks from the contractor in the wake of a March 2012 tornado that killed six people in the county and caused widespread damage, Boone said.

“He took at least $90,000 in kickbacks during a time when many of his constituents were rebuilding their lives from rubble,” Boone said of Conley.

Defense attorneys argued Conley should receive a sentence under the low end of the recommended range, in part because he used much of the kickback money he received to help others.

Conley gave money to cancer patients and people who were out of work, donated $10,000 to pay utility bills for people after the tornado, and paid $15,000 for an appreciation dinner for people who helped with cleanup after the disaster, according to his appeal motion.

Conley reported to prison this year. He is in the federal prison in Beckley, West Virginia, with a projected release date of July 15, 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.


Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader, https://www.kentucky.com

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