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Marshall professor pleads guilty in DOH kickback scheme

Staff report

The Herald-Dispatch

WHEELING, W.Va. — A Marshall University engineering professor has admitted his role in a kickback scheme that routed $1.5 million West Virginia Division of Highways funds to a South Carolina consulting firm.

Andrew P. Nichols, 38, of Lesage, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to impede the IRS on Monday, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of West Virginia.

Nichols was previously named in an indictment in November 2016, along with three other men. They were accused of being a part of a scheme that sent WVDOH work to the Dennis Corp., of Columbia, South Carolina, which was Nichols’ former employer. The criminal activity lasted from 2009 until at least 2011, the release states.

Nichols is alleged to have managed the finances between Dennis Corp. and a WVDOH employee, including illicit payments made to Bruce Kenney, a WVDOH employee, in the form of “multiple covert payments via cashier’s check,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Marshall University spokeswoman Ginny Painter said university officials are reviewing the plea and will not comment further. As of Monday, Nichols was still employed by the university.

In 2015, Nichols received the Dr. Charles E. Hedrick Outstanding Faculty Award at Marshall University for the 2014-15 academic year and was the keynote speaker at the university’s 2015 winter commencement. In 2016, Nichols was a finalist for the Professor of the Year Award presented by the Faculty Merit Foundation of West Virginia.

He has been teaching engineering at Marshall since August 2007.

The indictments in the case allege that Kenney, 60, of Norfolk, Virginia, used his position in the Traffic Engineering Division of the DOH to bypass state procedures and funnel structure inspection work to the Dennis Corp. in exchange for covert payments totaling almost $200,000. Kenney was charged by information in November with honest services wire fraud conspiracy and conspiracy to impede the IRS.

Nichols was indicted in November 2016, along with Kenney, James Travis Miller and Mark R. Whitt, who have all entered guilty pleas and are awaiting sentencing.

Miller, 40, of Hurricane, West Virginia, was charged in an information with a money laundering conspiracy. He worked for the DOH before leaving to work for the Dennis Corp. Court documents allege he delivered payments to Kenney in exchange for “official actions” that favored the Dennis Corp.

Bayliss and Ramey Inc., a Putnam County highway electrical contractor, was the business charged.

Each individual defendant faces the possibility of incarceration.

The case is being investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s Public Corruption Unit, which includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the West Virginia Commission on Special Investigations, IRS-Criminal Investigation and the West Virginia State Police.

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