ATLANTA -- The husband of former Kentucky Gov. Martha Layne Collins has pleaded innocent to charges of extorting money from two bond firms.

He entered his plea during his arraignment Monday in U.S. District Court in Frankfort, Ky.

On July 7, a federal grand jury had charged that Dr. Bill Collins forced Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Inc. and Cranston Securities to pay him in exchange for helping the firms win state bond business during his wife's four-year term.

The grand jury also charged Mr. Collins with obstruction of justice and tax fraud, charges to which he also pleaded innocent Monday.

According to the 18-page indictment accompanying the extortion charge, Dr. Collins and former state Finance Secretary Lester Thompson sought and received contributions to Ms. Collins 1983 gubernatorial campaign and inauguration from officials at the two securities firms.

Dr. Collins set up thoroughbred horse partnerships as a vehicle for obtaining bribes from the firms, the indictment says.

The obstruction charge alleges Dr. Collins had impelled a witness to destroy records, while the tax fraud charge alleges he had masked bribes as legal deductions.

Responding to Dr. Collins's request for additional tie to prepare his defense, U.S. District Judge Joseph Hood set Feb. 1 as the trial date for the extortion and tax fraud charges and April 5 for the obstruction-of-justice charge.

Normally, federal trials are held within 70 days of indictment.

Although Dr. Collins did not comment at the arraignment, his lawyer, Frank Haddah, distributed a statement written by the defendant.

"This investigation has subjected my family and even my friends to undue and undeserved pressures and hardship," Dr. Collins wrote. "I regret that these charges have been made, but I look forward to the opportunity to refute them."

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky has not leveled any charges against former Gov. Collins, Mr. Thompson, or the two investment firms.

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