Archive for Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Contractor admits to violating state campaign finance laws

Workers were reimbursed after donating money to Wichita candidates

April 30, 2003

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— The president of a construction firm has acknowledged reimbursing employees who donated money to candidates who supported allowing a landfill in Sedgwick County.

The practice is a violation of state law punishable with fines and possibly jail time, though Ron Cornejo said he was not aware of the legal implications when the reimbursements were made.

The Kansas Ethics Commission is looking into the matter.

Cornejo, president of Cornejo & Sons, issued a statement Monday saying he and his company were cooperating with state investigators and gathering data on the contributions that were made by the employees in 2002 and 2003.

"Frankly, the manner in which campaign contributions were handled were mistakes, which we regret and which we will not repeat," Cornejo said in the statement.

In a later interview with The Wichita Eagle, Cornejo confirmed that his company was admitting to reimbursing campaign donations.

The county's trash haulers currently dispose of trash by transporting it to landfills near Topeka and in Oklahoma.

Cornejo and a partner firm, Herzog Contracting Corp., of St. Joseph, Mo., both were active donors to Wichita and Sedgwick County candidates since proposing that they be allowed to jointly develop a landfill to replace the Brooks Landfill, which was operated by Herzog and closed in 2001. Contracts for such a facility could be worth millions.

Joe Kneib, vice president for Herzog's landfill division, said he was not aware of any reimbursement by his company. He also said Herzog has not been contacted by the Kansas Ethics Commission.

Cornejo said his company contacted the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission the day after reporters questioned the donations. Carol Williams, the commission's executive director, would not comment directly on Cornejo's case.

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