CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s new secretary of commerce, Harrison County businessman Woody Thrasher, is preparing to move his financial holdings into a blind trust while new Gov. Jim Justice, the state’s richest man, says he would like to do the same except that his holdings are too complicated to move quickly.
Justice released a letter to state employees — and his Twitter account provided a link — saying he is pursuing a blind trust of his assets, which include The Greenbrier Resort, plus coal, timber and agriculture businesses.
A letter to state employees from Governor Jim Justice https://t.co/a2UalrNcNw
— Governor Jim Justice (@WVGovernor) January 30, 2017
“I’ve separated myself from my business holdings by putting my children in charge of our family’s business operations. Being Governor is a full-time responsibility,” Justice wrote in his letter.
“I want to put all of my assets in a blind trust; however, the process has been slowed down by the multitude of financial institutions that work with my family’s companies. I will continue to file very detailed ethics reports, just like during the election, which lets everyone know about my family’s businesses and investments.”
Justice’s business interests go on for 97 lines on his financial disclosure form that was filed with the state Ethics Commission when he filed to run for governor.
Justice’s financial disclosure form lists 22 areas of interaction between state government and Justice entities.
Those include the state Development Office and its golf tournament sponsorship with Old White Charities, plus state agencies and their conferences at The Greenbrier and Glade Springs Resort, also owned by Justice.
There have been several high-profile interactions between Justice properties and the state over the past few years. The State of West Virginia is a major sponsor of The Greenbrier Classic golf tournament. And on the final day of the 2014 legislative session, lawmakers approved a 10-year tax credit for three projects at The Greenbrier.
His Republican opponent in the general election, then-Senate President Bill Cole, charged that Justice had too many financial holdings to untangle as governor.
“I think his interactions with state government are huge,” Cole said in an interview last fall. “A blind trust would be imperative.”
Cole continued, “I see in every aspect of his business, there’s troubling connections. A blind trust at a very minimum is going to be critical here.”
Justice has placed his daughter, Jill, in charge of The Greenbrier and his son, Jay, in charge of the coal holdings.
“I have always taught my children that we will never show nor accept favoritism, but rather achieve our goals through hard work and dedication. I assure you there is absolutely no expectation on behalf of the members of my family of receiving any special treatment,” Justice wrote in the letter released today.
Justice also wrote, “I didn’t run for Governor for me; I ran to help the people of West Virginia. I don’t want a thing from this office. The last thing I want is a conflict of interest between my family’s businesses and state government. Even the slightest whiff of a conflict won’t fly with me.”
Thrasher’s blind trust agreement, outlining the terms of how his business interests will be run without him while he serves as commerce secretary, has been submitted to the state Ethics Commission, which will approve or reject it during a meeting this Thursday.
The Thrasher Group is an engineering and architectural firm that Thrasher began with his father in 1983. It has nearly 400 employees. Thrasher is also the managing partner of the White Oaks Business Park in Bridgeport.
While Thrasher serves as Secretary of Commerce, his holdings will be managed by trustees Marcia A. Broughton, an attorney in the tax practice group at the Jackson Kelly law firm, and Michael B. Ervin, who teaches accounting, finance and taxation at West Virginia Wesleyan.
The blind trust agreement says Thrasher wants to avoid any conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest.
So the trustees are being set up to exercise exclusive management and control over his assets. They’ll make decisions about whether, when and to what extent his assets are to be sold or disposed of and how they might be reinvested “all the while withholding from the interested party all knowledge of what assets the Trustee may from time to time elect to hold and own in the Trust Estate.”
Thrasher isn’t supposed to receive reports on the holdings and sources of income in the trust, except at the end of each calendar quarter when he may receive a report on the total cash value and fair market value or the net income or loss.
The agreement has some allowances where, for example, the trustees may reserve money to be set aside for tax payements.
The agreement only applies to Thrasher, not to his children or other dependents who might have an interest in the company’s assets. The agreement terminates if Thrasher stops serving as commerce secretary, including in the event of his death.
The decisions of the trustees are to be unanimous.
The agreement says Thrasher owns a nearly 70 percent interest in the Thrasher Group bearing his name.
As part of that, Thrasher owns 100 percent of Thrasher Transportation, Thrasher Development, Thrasher Farms and Thrasher Real Estate Investment.
Thrasher Real Estate Investment owns 50 percent stakes in White Oaks Professional Building Three, White Oaks Professional Building Four, Progress Properties Two, Southview Centre and TJH One. Thrasher Real Estate Investment owns 99 percent of TJH Two.
Thrasher owns 99 percent of White Oaks Retail Village One, 90 percent of White Oaks Retail Village Two and 50 percent of Shenandoah Office Park.
Thrasher owns 100 percent of TDC LLC, which, in turns, owns 99.8 percent of High Tech Corridor Development, 50 percent of White Oaks Professional Building One, 50 percent of White Oaks Professional Building Three, 20 percent of White Oaks Professional Building Four, 50 percent of Progress Properties, 20 percent of Progress Properties Two 50 percent of Southview Centre and 50 percent of TJH One.
Thrasher discussed stepping away from his businesses in the statement he made when he was named commerce secretary.
“Mr. Justice’s passion for our people inspired me to step away from my businesses and serve the people of West Virginia the best way possible,” Thrasher stated then. “I look forward to working with the Justice Administration to create new jobs and opportunities. Just like the Governor-elect, my top priority is to turn around West Virginia. We need to think big, and I am excited to work with Governor-elect Justice make his big economic development ideas a reality.”