2 former Bristol utility execs plead guilty to taking kickbacks from bogus contractor invoices

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ABINGDON, Virginia — Two former Bristol Virginia Utilities Authority executives have pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges stemming from kickback schemes.

U.S. Attorney Anthony Giorno says 61-year-old Robert James Kelley Jr. of Lexington and 44-year-old David Copeland of Bristol each pleaded guilty to a single count Thursday in federal court in Abingdon. They face up to five years in prison.

Kelley was the authority's vice president of field operations from 2006 to 2009, when he was succeeded by Copeland. Kelly admitted approving at least $330,510 in false billing invoices by a contractor and receiving $160,000 in kickbacks.

Copeland admitted taking $40,000 from a company that submitted $143,000 in false invoices. The authority had received a Virginia Tobacco Commission grant to hire the company for rock-drilling as part of a fiber optic cable project.

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