LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Veteran Democratic political consultant Larry O'Bryan was given simple instructions: Meet lobbyist Jim Sullivan in a parking lot to pick up a $5,000 bribe and deliver it to a high-ranking state official to win favorable treatment in the complex government contracting process.
They called the bribes "Christmas presents." And when O'Bryan got in Sullivan's car that night in 2009, he was surprised to see multiple envelopes in the high-powered lobbyist's car.
"Jim Sullivan told me I have to drive around delivering Christmas presents," O'Bryan said. "He had a bag with envelopes in it, four or five. Six. He handed me one."
O'Bryan testified Thursday during the fourth day of Sullivan's bribery trial. The federal government is trying to prove Sullivan bribed Tim Longmeyer, a cabinet secretary for former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, to win a contract for a company he represented. His trial has exposed details about a separate kickback scheme run by Longmeyer and O'Bryan and the sometimes shady world of government contracting.
Longmeyer and O'Bryan conspired with Sam McIntosh to help McIntosh's consulting company M C Squared win business with Kentucky's employee health insurance plan, prosecutors said. McIntosh's company charged double what the work actually cost, pocketing the rest of the money and splitting it with Longmeyer and O'Bryan, they said. All three are now serving prison sentences.
Longmeyer kept some of the money for himself, but said most of it he donated or directed others to donate to Democratic political campaigns. It earned him a reputation as a major fundraiser with the state's political power brokers, a role O'Bryan said Longmeyer craved.
O'Bryan said the kickback scheme was supposed to be a one-time thing but said Longmeyer kept coming back for more.
"He said, 'The governor really wants another poll, another focus group. It will help pay for this race or this campaign,'" O'Bryan said. "He said to expect another check from M C Squared."
Prosecutors have said there is no evidence elected officials knew what Longmeyer and O'Bryan were doing.
The scheme was so successful, O'Bryan said, that Longmeyer wanted to expand it to the state's retirement system. O'Bryan said Longmeyer tried to have him appointed to the Kentucky Retirement Systems board of trustees because there was "billions of dollars on that board." But he said the appointment was blocked by Mike Haydon, Beshear's chief of staff, who was pressuring Longmeyer to award state contracts to political donors.
Longmeyer testified Wednesday that Haydon wanted to award a lucrative state contract for the state's workers compensation claims to a company that had helped him raise money. But Longmeyer said he blocked that deal because he was being bribed by Sullivan to make sure the contract stayed with Cannon Cochran Management Services Inc.
Haydon died in 2012.
Prosecutors say Sullivan paid Longmeyer thousands of dollars over a seven-year period to help him win business for his clients. The FBI learned of the bribes in 2016, when they busted Longmeyer for his kickback scheme. The final payment came in 2016, when Sullivan put $1,000 in the cupholder of Longmeyer's car. Longmeyer recorded it for the FBI. Thursday, FBI agent James Huggins held the $1,000 in a plastic bag for the jury to see.
Thomas Hectus, Sullivan's attorney, told the jury on Monday that Sullivan gave the money to Longmeyer as a friend. O'Bryan testified Longmeyer was always asking for money, saying he was "financially challenged from the day I met him." He said Longmeyer joined a country club, took his family on ski trips and lived above his means as he sought to become a major Democratic fundraiser.
Hectus also tried to discredit O'Bryan's testimony by focusing on his plea agreement with the federal government. He noted O'Bryan did not plead guilty to all of the charges against him. Hectus told jurors on Monday that Longmeyer and O'Bryan made up the allegations in order to get a lighter sentence for their more serious crimes.