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Circular saws squealed and construction workers hammered away on buildings, part of this Appalachian area's painstaking recovery from a deadly 2012 tornado.

About 60 miles away, inside in a federal courtroom Tuesday in Lexington, the elected official who led the reconstruction in Morgan County sobbed as he pleaded guilty to a fraud charge stemming from a kickback scheme.

Judge-Executive Tim Conley, the county's top official, received $120,000 to $200,000 to steer work to a contractor in a scheme that started three years before the tornado and continued while the town struggled to rebuild, prosecutors said. Conley could spend years in prison.

His supporters had a hard time believing the three-term Republican had gone astray.

"Everybody respected Tim Conley," said Morgan County resident Steve Gullett. "I just didn't think that he'd be caught up in something like this. It's heartbreaking."

The recovery has been slow in West Liberty, the county seat ravaged by a tornado on March 2, 2012. The new judicial center has opened, and a few businesses have sprung up downtown. A bank that anchored downtown is being rebuilt, but construction is in its early phases, leaving a massive gap in the tiny downtown.


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