Lobbyist says payments to state official were friendly loans

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — A veteran lobbyist says his multiple cash payments to a high-ranking state official were loans between friends and not bribes meant to maintain a lucrative state contract for his corporate client.

James Sullivan is on trial this week accused of bribing former Personnel Secretary Tim Longmeyer to maintain an annual million-dollar contract for Cannon Cochran Management Services Inc., an Illinois-based company that administers Kentucky’s workers’ compensation claims.

Longmeyer testified Wednesday that he was being pressured by former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear’s office to give the contract to another company that had been a campaign donor. Longmeyer said he refused because Sullivan was already paying him to make sure the contract stayed with CCMSI. Authorities have said there is no evidence elected officials knew about the bribes or the kickback scheme.

Longmeyer said the first payment came in 2009 following a meeting at a Ruth’s Chris steakhouse in Louisville. Democratic consultant Larry O’Bryan testified Sullivan gave him an envelope filled with $5,000 in cash with instructions to give it to Longmeyer. O’Bryan said he did not look in the envelope, but Longmeyer told him it contained $5,000.

On Friday, Sullivan said he gave Longmeyer $1,000, not $5,000. He said the money was to help his friend Longmeyer, who had complained during the dinner about how expensive it was to buy Christmas presents and take his family on a ski trip. He said he never asked Longmeyer about CCMSI’s contract because, while he was a deputy cabinet secretary at the time, he was a political appointee who did not understand how the workers’ compensation system worked.

Plus, he said CCMSI’s contract was not up for renewal in December 2009. He said state officials were pleased with CCMSI’s performance and he did not think the Beshear administration was trying to use political pressure to give the contract to someone else.

“I wouldn’t have wasted time talking to him about it,” he said. “There was no reason to even try to bribe him. (CCMSI) was that good.”

Longmeyer also said Sullivan discreetly slipped him an envelope with $4,000 in cash in a Walgreens’ parking lot in 2015. Sullivan said it was $1,500, and the money was to purchase liquor for a fundraising event for Jack Conway, who at the time had just won the Democratic nomination for governor. Sullivan called it an “in-kind” campaign contribution and said there was never an agreement for Longmeyer to make sure CCMSI kept its contract.

Prosecutors have video of Sullivan giving Longmeyer $1,000 in the parking lot of a Panera Bread in March 2016. By that time, Longmeyer had been busted by the FBI for other crimes and he had agreed to work with them to catch Sullivan. Sullivan said he was meeting with Longmeyer to discuss the possibility of hiring a friend’s law firm to do some legal work. Sullivan said his friend’s law firm was not a client of his and he did not expect to be paid.

Longmeyer asked Sullivan for “a Christmas consideration.” In the video, which was played for the jury, Sullivan told Longmeyer he would “play the game” and said “I’ll do more if I can just get something going.” Sullivan told the jury his consulting business wasn’t doing so well at the time and that he meant he would better help Sullivan as a friend if his business improved. He said he never asked Longmeyer to give his friends a contract.

Longmeyer and O’Bryan are serving prison sentences of at least five years for their part in a separate kickback scheme involving the state’s employee health insurance plan. Sullivan’s attorney, Thomas Hectus, has tried to discredit their testimony by portraying them as convicted felons desperate to win lighter sentences by cooperating with authorities.

The jury is scheduled to begin deliberating the case on Saturday after lawyers for both sides make their closing arguments.

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