WV House leader calls for license reviews amid DOH kickback probe

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Andrew P. Nichols, a civil engineering professor at Marshall University, pleaded guilty recently to tax fraud charges.

A West Virginia House of Delegates leader has directed three state agencies to review the licenses of a Putnam County contractor, a Marshall University professor and two former Division of Highways engineers who have admitted to taking part in a kickback scheme.

House Government Organization Chairman Gary Howell, R-Mineral, wants the agencies to submit reports and timelines that detail whether they have taken steps to revoke licenses of the four men who’ve entered guilty pleas.

Howell sent letters last week to the Board of Registration for Professional Engineers, Contractors Licensing Board and state Purchasing Division.

“The state code says once you’re convicted of something, there are consequences such as license revocation, and we want them to take a look at that,” Howell said. “If these people have defrauded the state, they shouldn’t be out there in the public or private sector.”

Andrew P. Nichols, a civil engineering professor at Marshall, pleaded guilty last week to tax fraud charges in connection with what prosecutors call a “pay-for-play” scheme. Nichols, who remains on Marshall’s payroll, still holds an active West Virginia engineering license, according to the engineering board’s website.

Former DOH traffic engineers Bruce Kenney II and James Travis Miller also have pleaded guilty to their roles in the kickback scheme. Kenney has let his license lapse, according to the website, while Miller’s license remains active. Miller works for a company called Mountaineer Engineering and Transportation Solutions, which holds a “certificate of authorization” through the engineering board to operate in West Virginia.

Mark Whitt, owner of Scott Depot-based electrical contractor Bayliss & Ramey, also pleaded guilty earlier this year after admitting he benefited financially by concealing the flow of funds from the DOH to Dennis Corp., a South Carolina engineering consulting firm.

Whitt’s company has an active contractor’s license. The firm holds the traffic signal maintenance contract with the state.

Since 2006, the DOH has paid Bayliss & Ramey $65.4 million. Dennis Corp. has received more than $1 million directly from the DOH, but it also was paid as a subcontractor through Bayliss & Ramey.

Both companies remain eligible to bid on state contracts, according to the Purchasing Division website.

Federal prosecutors allege Nichols, Whitt, Kenney and Miller illegally diverted highway projects to Dennis Corp.

Howell said such fraudulent schemes are grounds for disciplinary action through state licensing boards.

“I’m just tired of the corruption in state government,” Howell said. “Here’s something very public that damaged the taxpayers, so we’re saying here’s the code section, and if you need to do something [with a license], then do your job.”

The engineering board’s lawyer said the agency has yet to receive Howell’s letter but would respond after it does.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, the state Legislature’s Commission on Special Investigations, the State Police, the FBI and the IRS started investigating the alleged kickback scheme in 2015. Investigators received a tip the day after former DOH Equipment Division chief Bob Andrew was indicted on federal charges. Andrew killed himself with a shotgun just hours after being indicted on racketeering charges.

Reach Eric Eyre at 304-348-4869

ericeyre@wvgazettemail.com,

or follow @ericeyre on Twitter.

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