Saturday, March 30, 2002

Former bridge inspector admits soliciting bribes

2 others named in civil suit

The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE — A former bridge inspector for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet has pleaded guilty to an anti-corruption law and told a federal judge he took $18,000 in bribes.

        Kevin L. Earles, 41, was accused of extortion in a lawsuit filed by companies painting the Kennedy Bridge over the Ohio River at Louisville. He was accused of soliciting bribes from the companies.

        Mr. Earles pleaded guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court in Louisville to three counts of violating the Hobbs Act, which bars public employees from using their jobs for private gain.

        He admitted to Judge John G. Heyburn II that he received bribes of $6,000, $3,000 and $9,000 on June 7, June 26 and Oct. 3 last year.

        Mr. Earles, who has cooperated with the FBI, faces a maximum penalty of 60 years in prison, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Ream said the government would recommend the lowest penalty under federal sentencing guidelines, which would be two to three years. Sentencing is June 20.

        In the lawsuit filed by the painting companies in Franklin Circuit Court, they allege that Mr. Earles and another former inspector, Billy Strader, intimidated workers by flashing handguns at them.

        Employees of one of the companies were told that others who tried to report the inspectors previously “had gotten hurt or killed,” the contractors said in documents filed in Franklin Circuit Court.

        Along with Mr. Earles, Mr. Strader and a third inspector, Scott Kring, are accused in the civil suit of soliciting bribes, but neither Mr. Strader nor Mr. Kring has been charged with any crimes. All three denied the allegations in the suit, and Mr. Strader filed a counterclaim alleging that the painting companies, Abhe & Svoboda Inc. of Minnesota and the Brighton Co. of Illinois, libeled and slandered him.

        The allegations that Mr. Earles and Mr. Strader intimidated bridge painters came in response to questions that Mr. Strader's lawyer filed last month, seeking details about the plaintiffs' allegations.

        Scott C. Cox, Mr. Earles' lawyer, declined to comment on those allegations, and Mr. Strader's attorney, William Perry McCall, could not be reached.

        In a notarized document filed Feb. 27 in Frankfort, the presidents of the two companies say through their lawyers that:

        • Mr. Strader would rub his thumb and fingers together after failing to approve work that he had inspected — and that employees understood he was demanding money because he said things like: “How bad do you want to paint today?” and “What's in it for me?”

        • Mr. Earles and Mr. Strader told Brighton's foreman, Paul Marley, that the bribery payments would be based on the number of square feet to be painted in the project.

        • The two inspectors told Mr. Marley that they had expected to receive $200,000 in payments from another contractor who bid unsuccessfully for the $13 million project to paint the bridge, which connects Louisville and Jeffersonville, Ind.

        Anne Gorham and John Hays of Lexington and Thomas Crafton of Florence, the lawyers for the painting companies, rejected a demand by Mr. Strader's attorneys to provide names and telephone numbers of the employees who were present when Mr. Strader allegedly solicited a bribe; the lawyers cited the threats that Mr. Strader and Mr. Earles allegedly made.


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