CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice today told reporters he has nothing to hide from a federal investigation.
“The net of the whole thing is just this: You’ve got to be respectful to anybody who wants to investigate anything because I don’t have anything whatsoever to hide.
“Anything you’re going to find around me is going to be goodness, and it’s going to be the right thing. So we want to be respectful to those, respect the process, tell them and give them anything they ever want. But at the same time, when you’re in this position, anybody can blow a whistle and anyone can cast a stone and say anything they want.”
Justice, responding to a question from WCHS-TV reporter Bob Aaron, declined to answer whether he had received a target letter from federal investigations.
“If we get too deep here, I am going to have to say to you, I’ve told you about all I can tell you without getting too deep into the weeds, so from that standpoint I’d better stop right there.”
But, he said, “Whatever letters I get, I’m going to answer. And I’m going to answer in a way that’s correct and honest. I’ve never told you anything but the truth. We’ve got a lot of great things going on in our state, and we’d better get on along about doing it.”
Justice was speaking at a grant presentation in Fayette County a day after the revelation of an investigation by the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice.
That revelation came about through a MetroNews Freedom of Information Act request for a federal subpoena of the state Department of Commerce.
The subpoena commanded the state Department of Commerce to provide a range of records about The Greenbrier, The Greenbrier Classic PGA event and Old White Charities, the nonprofit arm of the resort.
Gov. Jim Justice and his family own The Greenbrier and run the golf tournament and the charitable organization.
The subpoena specifically mentions James C. Justice II, who is the governor, his son James C. Justice III, who goes by Jay, his daughter Jill, who has been running the resort. Also mentioned is Jill’s husband, Adam Long.
The subpoena specifies several other people involved with the organizations, including Habibi Mamone, who was executive director of the golf tournament. Mamone also ran “Neighbors Loving Neighbors,” which was involved with West Virginia flood relief.
Another name that appears is Elmer Coppoolse, chief operating officer of The Greenbrier.
The subpoena is not evidence of wrongdoing, but it does indicate federal officials have been looking into some aspect of the governor’s prominent private operations.
Rumors have swirled for weeks about an investigation and subpoenas that have gone out not just to the agency but to others in West Virginia government and private business.
The subpoena to Commerce asks for records starting Jan. 1, 2014, and continuing through March 6, 2019.
Through the Freedom of Information Act request, MetroNews asked to review documents at Commerce that were responsive to the federal subpoena.
MetroNews completed that review this morning, accessing a full paper box of documents.
Most of the documents related to dealings between The Greenbrier and the Department of Commerce, the Development Office and the Division of Tourism prior to Justice’s election as governor in 2016.
Those offices had annual contracts to support The Greenbrier Classic golf tournament, considering it a venue to show off West Virginia as a business and tourism destination.
By fiscal 2016, the state was providing $1.75 million to support The Greenbrier Classic. That sponsorship was documented not only through public contracts but through news stories at the time.
After Justice took office, he called a halt to those arrangements.
Some contents of the box were relatively minor — invoices for state employees who were traveling to The Greenbrier in support of exhibits or other activities. Some were emails from people seeking passes to go watch the golf tournament.
There were a couple of documents relating to recent events.
Some were ethics exemption requests for Development Office employees who wanted to go to The Greenbrier — to the annual Business Summit, for instance — to build business relationships.
There was also a 2016 tourism expansion project tax credit application relating to the tennis stadium and wedding chapel built at The Greenbrier.
The total project cost was $11.5 million and the tax credit amounted to about $4 million. The agreement began Jan. 20, 2016, and ends Dec. 31, 2025, so it started before Justice was elected.
Another from 2018 had to do with The Greenbrier seeking an exemption to participate in a television advertising campaign in cooperation with the state.
Justice was elected governor in 2016 and took office at the start of 2017. Justice bought The Greenbrier out of bankruptcy in 2009.
The billionaire governor never has placed all of his assets into a blind trust. He does produce an annual financial disclosure form.
Early in his time in office, he produced a letter to state employees. It said he would like to pursue a blind trust but the process had been slowed by the size of his business portfolio.
All along, he has said he has put Jill, in charge of The Greenbrier and Jay in charge of the coal operations.
Speaking to reporters today, he doubted the value of a blind trust.
“I think a blind trust may be better if you had somebody that maybe had something to hide,” Justice said. “There’s always a chance of some kind of mistake or whatever may be. But you’re talking to a guy who drives his own vehicle. The windshield cracks.
“Sure, there could be a way to do anything always better. But at the same time I am not going to ever take advantage of anybody for my personal gain. I can promise you to God above — if God were standing right here and he would say ‘Jim Justice I’m going to send you to hell if you’re telling anything but the truth,’ he knows I’m going to tell the truth.”
Reporter Pete Davis of WJLS in Beckley reported from the Justice appearance in Fayette County.
.@BradMcElhinny joins @HoppyKercheval to discuss the federal subpoena for @wvcommerce to provide a range of records about The Greenbrier, Greenbrier Classic & Old White Charities. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIAoe1 pic.twitter.com/oI9x4173Gi
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) April 10, 2019