CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Two leading state lawmakers announced Thursday they’ve ordered information from a legislative audit about questionable spending in the state Department of Agriculture to be turned over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
House of Delegates Speaker Tim Miley and state Senate President Jeff Kessler said the audit turned up suspicious activity during the administration of former Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass.
“There are some expense issues and accounting issues that appear to be suspicious. False documents appear to have been submitted inappropriately and reimbursements made for those false expense vouchers,” Speaker Miley said Thursday on MetroNews Talkline.
The legislative audit was ordered last year after Walt Helmick took office as agriculture commissioner. Douglass decided not to seek reelection in 2012 after serving 11 four-year terms.
MetroNews reached Douglass at home Thursday and asked him about the audit results.
“I just can’t comprehend any abnormalities. I’ve always been transparent and continue to do so, because insofar as I know all the activities of the department were within the realm of what is expected of a department such as the Department of Agriculture,” Douglass said.
Speaker Miley said the money in question may not be huge amounts but what was apparently happening cannot be ignored and it needs to be looked at by federal prosecutors.
“I’m not going to tolerate, nor should anyone, nor does any of the other members of the House of Delegates or state Senate tolerate fraud in the government,” Miley said. “I’m a big believer if you can be trusted in the small things you can be trusted in the big things. But if you can’t be trusted in the small things you certainly can’t be trusted with big things.”
The audit report has yet to be released by the legislative auditor. Miley said he hopes that can take place next week at the earliest.
The speaker also said that he and President Kessler are going to review what is called the “friends and family loan program” in the agriculture department.
“It appears to have very little, if any, policies and procedures that have been followed in awarding these loans. Senate President Kessler and I are willing to work with Commissioner Helmick about addressing that loan program and either eliminating it or tightening the controls of it significantly,” Miley said.
Former Commissioner Douglass also told MetroNews he’s spoken with an attorney.
“I have talked to an attorney and had reports, but I can have no further comment until my representative has some information and we can determine what the challenge is. This surprises me. I thought after 50 years I had done pretty good, so I don’t know that I was ever on the take,” Douglass said.
Current Agriculture Commissioner Helmick responded Thursday:
“We support that decision 100 percent and the Agriculture Department will do whatever is needed to assist in this investigation.”