Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

DIVISION OF HIGHWAYS ; MU Prof. Indicted for Alleged Kickbacks; Andrew Nichols, 3 Others Diverted $1.5M to S.C. Firm, Federal Prosecutors Say

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

DIVISION OF HIGHWAYS ; MU Prof. Indicted for Alleged Kickbacks; Andrew Nichols, 3 Others Diverted $1.5M to S.C. Firm, Federal Prosecutors Say

Article excerpt

An award-winning Marshall University professor, the president of a highway contracting business and two former West Virginia Division of Highways engineers were charged Wednesday in a kickback scheme involving companies in Putnam County and South Carolina. Federal prosecutors allege that the men illegally diverted $1.5 million worth of Division of Highways projects to Dennis Corp., a South Carolina engineering consulting firm. DOH engineers received $200,000 in bribes between 2008 and 2013, according to the charges.

"It's pay-to-play corruption within the Division of Highways," said Bill Ihlenfeld, U.S. Attorney for West Virginia's Northern District. "This work was not bid out competitively; it was rigged so this corporation would receive these projects."

A federal grand jury in Clarksburg returned an indictment two weeks ago charging Marshall civil engineering professor Andrew P. Nichols, 38, of Lesage, with conspiracy to commit honest-services wire fraud, money laundering, obstructing justice and making false statements. The indictment was unsealed Wednesday.

Nichols formerly served as manager of the West Virginia division of Dennis Corp. while working as a senior director at Marshall's Rahall Appalachian Transportation Institute. He also is charged with lying to federal agents about his involvement in the alleged kickback scheme.

Nichols, a former resident of Point Pleasant who joined the Marshall faculty in 2007, was a finalist earlier this year for the Professor of the Year Award given by the Faculty Merit Foundation of West Virginia. Last year, Marshall gave Nichols the Charles E. Hedrick Outstanding Faculty Award. He gave the winter commencement address at Marshall's graduation in December 2015.

Nichols is scheduled to be arraigned today before U.S. Magistrate Judge James E. Seibert, in Wheeling.

Nichols' lawyer, Mike Frazier, said Nichols hasn't worked for Dennis Corporation since 2009.

"An indictment is merely an accusation, and Dr. Nichols looks forward to vindicating his name through the legal process, Frazier said in an email Wednesday night. "He is a well-respected professor, and these allegations deal with actions others took long after he left Dennis. We expect him to be fully exonerated.

Marshall spokeswoman Ginny Painter said in a statement that university officials didn't learn about the charges against Nichols until Wednesday, and are reviewing the allegations.

"The findings from our internal review of the evidence and the outcome of the criminal process will determine what, if any, employee disciplinary action will be pursued, Painter said.

Former DOH traffic engineers Bruce E. Kenney II, 60, of Norfolk, Virginia, and James Travis Miller, 40, of Hurricane, are expected to plead guilty to their roles in the alleged scheme, Ihlenfeld said.

Kenney, who left the DOH in 2014, is charged with honest- services wire fraud conspiracy and conspiracy to evade the Internal Revenue Service. …

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