Federal prosecutors say a veteran Democratic consultant and lobbyist gave "Christmas presents" to a high-ranking state official as part of a pay-to-play scheme that "attempted to reach the highest levels of state government."
But an attorney for James Sullivan says the lobbyist is just being used by the state's former No. 2 law enforcement officer to get a lighter sentence for his more serious crimes.
Sullivan is one of four people charged in a federal bribery investigation that has been ongoing since 2016. The case has already netted prison sentences for Larry O'Bryan and Sam McIntosh, two Democratic political consultants who prosecutors say orchestrated hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks in an effort to win lucrative state contracts for companies they represented.
Prosecutors say the mastermind of the scheme was Tim Longmeyer, who was personnel secretary under Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, and that he eventually moved his operation to the Attorney General's office in 2016, when he accepted a job as the top deputy for Democrat Andy Beshear.
Longmeyer pleaded guilty in 2016 and is serving five years and eight months in federal prison. He is scheduled to testify Wednesday against Sullivan, the only one of the four to go to trial.
The trial could impact the 2019 governor's race, in which Andy Beshear may challenge incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. Prosecutors have said there is no evidence that Beshear knew what Longmeyer and others were doing. But that hasn't stopped Bevin from repeatedly criticizing Beshear on conservative talk radio. A Republican Party official attended the trial Monday, a sign of the case's potential political impact.
Prosecutor Andy Boone told jurors Sullivan represented Cannon Cochran Management Services Inc., which manages the state's workers' compensation claims under a contract worth about $1 million a year. The company paid Sullivan's firm $50,000 a year to help it keep the contract and to win other contracts in state and local government. In 2010, Boone said the contract was to be rebid and Sullivan was worried political pressure from then-Gov. Beshear's office would result in the contract going to another company.
Boone said Sullivan met with Longmeyer and "told (him) he would get a Christmas present."
"The next day, he got an envelope stuffed with cash," Boone said, adding it was about $5,000. Boone said there is no evidence the company knew what Sullivan was doing.
Boone said Sullivan kept paying Longmeyer for seven years "as an insurance policy," and that payments were made in parking lots and tucked into restaurant menus. During that time, Sullivan's consulting firm earned more than $500,000 in fees from Cannon Cochran Management Services Inc., whose contract was renewed every two years by the state despite at least two protests from a competitor.
In his new role at the Attorney General's office, prosecutors say Longmeyer accepted $1,000 from Sullivan to steer contracts to some law firms he represented. But by that time, Longmeyer had been caught and was working for the FBI. Prosecutors say Longmeyer recorded those interactions, and they plan to play them for jurors later this week.
Sullivan's attorney, Thomas Hectus, says his client is not guilty. He says Sullivan's payments to Longmeyer were as friends, adding there was never an agreement for Longmeyer to help Sullivan. He said Longmeyer made up the allegations so the federal government would go easy on him when they busted him for his other crimes.
"Tim Longmeyer was always asking for money," Hectus said. "There is not one shred of evidence to suggest Tim Longemeyer did anything to get that contract."
Cannon Cochran Management Services Inc. Vice President Jerry Armatis testified the company has had the contract since 2005, spanning the administrations of two Republicans and one Democrat.
J. Michael Brown, who replaced Longmeyer as the attorney general's top deputy in 2016, told jurors each contract is vetted by a team of lawyers and awarded based on a complex scoring system, making it difficult for Longmeyer or anyone else to influence the outcome.