CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As he begins retirement, former West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Menis Ketchum is agreeing to plead guilty to a felony criminal count of wire fraud, part of a federal information that U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart announced Tuesday.
“Although the plea agreement includes only a single count, the federal information sets forth a pattern of wrongdoing,” said Mike Stuart, U.S. attorney for West Virginia’s Southern District, during a Tuesday press conference at the Robert C. Byrd U.S. Courthouse in Charleston.
An information indicates Ketchum, 75, is cooperating with federal investigators by agreeing to waive indictment and admit to using a state-owned vehicle and state-issued fuel card for personal travel in 2014.
“Justice Ketchum did the right thing for doing the wrong thing. Justice Ketchum stepped up and owned his illegal activity,” Stuart said.
“The West Virginia Supreme Court should be and must be above reproach, above even the slightest appearance of impropriety. That’s critical. After all, it is the highest court in the land and its justices are elected by the people — our neighbors and our families — to stand in judgment of us, all of us.”
A plea hearing for Ketchum will be scheduled at a later date.
The possible penalties for wire fraud include a potential sentence of up to 20 years in a federal prison and a fine of as much as $250,000.
Ketchum submitted his resignation to Governor Jim Justice on July 11, 2018 — the day before the start of impeachment hearings from the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee. His resignation took effect last Friday, July 27.
His term was scheduled to run through 2020.
Next Monday, Aug. 6, the filing period begins for those interested in serving out the remainder of Ketchum’s term. Potential candidates have to run in the 2018 November General Election.
A temporary justice will be appointed to serve ahead of the election.
Earlier this year, a legislative audit found Ketchum should have indicated his use of the vehicles on his personal income tax returns, but did not.
He had his W-2 forms retroactively updated and repaid the state $1,663.81 for incorrect travel expenses.
His assertion was he had obtained official permission from his fellow justices in 2012 to start using a state vehicle to commute between the State Capitol and his home in Huntington.
The audit found Ketchum also took the car to several out-of-state golf outings.
.@JeffJenkinsMN joins @HoppyKercheval to analyze former State Supreme Court Justice Menis Ketchum’s decision to plead guilty to one felony criminal count of wire fraud. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIAoe1 pic.twitter.com/g5hcCtEqBM
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) July 31, 2018
Elected in 2008 and a chief justice in 2012 and 2016, Ketchum is the second state justice to face criminal charges.
The charge comes out of the ongoing federal investigation focused on the state Supreme Court.
Earlier this summer, suspended Justice Allen Loughry was indicted on 23 criminal counts of witness tampering, mail fraud, wire fraud, lying to investigators and obstruction of justice.
Currently, Loughry is free on bond as he awaits trial which is scheduled for August.
“There is no such thing as a ‘little bit of public corruption.’ I intend to do all I can to ensure that our people have the honest government they deserve,” Stuart said.
With the Ketchum information, “We’re one step closer, one step closer to ending the crisis of this court.”