File photo

Gus Douglass, right, was honored by state Senate President Jeff Kessler, left, and other members of the state Senate prior to his retirement.

 

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.”

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Comments

  • If u only knew

    Helmick is so quick to cry "foul" thinking it will put him in a good light, when in reality, the best defense is offense. Before he throws too many rocks, he better check on his own "GAAP" in his own Deprtment. Allowing previous fiscal staff to drive the bus may come back to haunt him. For instance, Issuing 2 service contracts "under the allowed "in-house limit" to the same individual to skirt the proper procedures isn't exactly a good thing. Neither is allowing the fiscal division to use other divisions' accounts at their discretion to pay whatever they want, when most of these accounts are tied to federal programs for match and could cause funding to be reduced or denied. I know Walt's objective is to get staff moved of the "Gawd awful Hill", aka Gus R. Douglass Center but he isn't even filling needed vacancies for important positions- does he think those couple hundred thousand will help. He is also willing to cut programs that are very important to the people of WV for health reasons for livestock and humans as well as having a detrimental impact on southern WV's tourism. Yet he had no qualms of hiring several "special coordinators" at considerable salaries to try to promote thinking "outside the box" and bringing in money to agriculture, well where is the "seed money coming from". I am not defending any wronging doing of the former administration if that is so, whether what was done was illegal or unethical --but in a public office neither is acceptable. I agree with reality check he is dead on.

  • reality check

    Hopefully the investigation will include how monies that were supposed to be given to all AG employees (across the board raises) but only hand picked people were given raises. Some raises were up to 8 or 9 thousand dollars, while many employees received absolutely (0) nothing! How is this Legal??

  • A Different Joe

    This is what happens when new blood is not injected into a political office. I'm speculating that the practices in question started out as just a little numbers fudging years ago that became an acceptable practice. And then it got a little more than fudging and then a little more and a little more........ The people involved will say everyone does it......
    Any long term incumbent should request an audit from time to time to keep this from happening, but they won't have to as this will soon be code.

  • Brad

    Why federal prosecutors? Why not referred to the Kanawha County prosecutor?

  • Mary

    The info has been out there for awhile. Back when Hoppy was having discussions about the unknown number of cars that the DOH has, there was a caller to his show that talked about fraud at the Dept of Ag. She made the statement that she knew someone that worked for the Dept of Ag that was taking classes in Morgantown, so they would "schedule" meetings in Morgantown for her so she could be paid for her travel to class. She reported that the meeting would last a few minutes or be cancelled once this person made it to Morgantown. So the state footed the bill for her travel to her classes. This call stood out to me because I serve on a board of directors for a fair in the state. After the state did an across the board budget cut, Commissioner Douglas announced at one of the fairs and festivals conventions that he was cutting the grant programs for fairs and festivals so he could keep all the staff that he had in the department. When the lady made the call to Talkline, it pointed out where the grant money was possibly being used.

  • Independent View

    Not a suprise. One of the previous scandals of the Douglas era was a sexual harrassment suit naming Mr. Douglas that was paid big $$ to go away, with no details to taxpayers. So, after that rush to payoff the plantiff and keep it hush-hush, it is refreshing to see this investigation proceeding.
    This latest allegation may be baseless or just the tip-of-the-iceberg?
    In the sexual harrassment case, why pay off if unfounded or you are not guilty? And, in this latest case why hire a lawyer if no charges against you have been made and a larger question, why a lawyer if even no allegations against you have been made?
    If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck.

  • Larry

    The "water farmer" will get to the bottom of this.

  • Ole Sasquatch

    Audit could be out as early as next week.
    Who does that make sweat?

  • 2XLPatriot

    Politicians investigating politicians for fraud? Pot, meet kettle.

    • Candy

      Every politician is a fraud? You are what is wrong with this nation.

      • 2XLPatriot

        No Candy, people like you who actually think there is still "Good" in elected officials in a Good 'ole boy environment and keep voting them in to office is what's wrong with this country. You are sadly uninformed and gullable.

        • C. Jacobs

          Living in absolutes is an emotional character trait, not one based on facts. Not all politicians are bad, nor are all wealthy business owners. Not all poor people are lazy and not all rich people work hard.

          Candy is correct. Painting everyone and everything with a broad brush is untrue and wrong.

          • 2XLPatriot

            All I ask is to be shown proof of a sitting politician who has not financially benefited from his / her position. Special interests, special deals, insider information, etc. That my friends, is dishonesty. Show me a sitting politician who has not misused the perks of their position or funneled funds to a "Buddy" for personal gain or favors. This will continue until WE hold them responsible. Yes, my brush is broad but, my experience is even broader. Let the stone throwing continue.

      • Brad

        You're correct: the vast majority of people in public office are ethical, honest.

        • Hillbilly

          At least they WERE until they got elected...

  • Hughesknight

    It would be nice if this investigation would proceed with no mention of Miley, Kessler, Helmick and Goodwin. It is all about justice isn't it?

    • Calvin Smith

      You want it all done without transparency?

      No transparency in government is not something I prefer but to each his own. I prefer knowing who is asking for what and who isn't.

  • Chris P.

    Sounds like something fishy was going on in the past.

    Typically politicians just cover it up. Good to see them step up to shed light on it when they found out.