CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A federal subpoena has 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 names the governor, asking for records of any communication with people acting on behalf of the resort, the golf tournament or the charity.
It 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 request also covers the golf tournament under its new name, A Military Tribute at 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.
The Governor’s Office released a statement from Justice.
“I’ve always done the right thing in my personal life, my business life, my political life and every part of my life. The people of West Virginia know that I have always been an open book, so of course, I am fully cooperating with the investigation.”
Justice stated that he would not let the investigation be a distraction.
“We have finally gotten this state turned back in the right direction, we need to finish the job,” he stated. “I will continue to devote 110% of my efforts to doing exactly that.”
MetroNews obtained the subpoena through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Commerce and to the state Development Office.
Because the federal government was issuing a subpoena to a state agency, the document would be considered public.
The subpoena asks for records starting Jan. 1, 2014, and continuing through March 6, 2019.
The records were supposed to be produced by April 2, 2019, which was one week ago.
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.
Pages within the subpoena make reference to the possibility of testifying before a grand jury.
Asked last week about rumors of a federal investigation, U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart, whose office is in the Southern District of West Virginia, revealed very little.
“When you’re as active as my office, lots of rumors fly,” Stuart stated to MetroNews. “There is always a grand jury every week, multiple times.”
Brian Abraham, general counsel for the Governor’s Office, acknowledged the subpoena’s existence. He said no money has gone from state government to the governor’s private holdings since Justice ran for office.
“It obviously exists. The documents that have been requested we believe pre-date the governor’s time in office,” Abraham said in a telephone interview.
“From 2016 on, which would have been the year he was running for governor, no monies from the state of West Virginia were paid to the golf tournament or the charity or The Greenbrier. We’ve had in place since the governor took office a moratorium on any agencies or their officials even being able to stay at The Greenbrier.”
Abraham could not confirm the existence other subpoenas.
“This is the only one that I believe we’ve received in all of state government.”
Besides the communications from people representing the governor’s private entities, the subpoena also asks for records of any contract exemption requests filed with the West Virginia Ethics Commission for sponsorship of the golf tournament.
And it asks for records of any funds appropriated by the Department of Commerce or the state Development Office for the golf tournament or the charity.
And it asks for records related to distribution of funds by the Department of Commerce or the Development Office for the golf tournament or the charity.
Commerce had been a sponsor of The Greenbrier Classic for several years, but Justice instructed the agency to pull its sponsorship starting in 2017.
For a couple of years in a row, the Development Office had to ask special permission from the Ethics Commission to allow employees participate in the annual Business Summit at The Greenbrier.
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.
“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 2017 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.”
He added in that letter that he doesn’t want to even give the appearance of a conflict of interest.
“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.”
Each of the entities described in the subpoena has been going through financial challenges.
Justice’s businesses related to the resort filed a federal lawsuit earlier this year, claiming insurance companies failed to adequately compensate for damages from the massive flood that struck the area surrounding The Greenbrier in 2016.
The Greenbrier Classic golf tournament, which was renamed, is having to move to a less desirable fall date because of financial strains with the PGA Tour.
The hotel did not have enough funds to pay the $10.4 milion title sponsorship for 2017 up front. So an agreement was hatched to pay in installments in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021, along with title sponsorships for those years.
But in exchange the PGA Tour required the Greenbrier Hotel to give up its Fourth of July week and move to September.
A 2018 article in The Charleston Gazette-Mail described mounting losses for operators of Old White Charities.
The newspaper’s examination of records showed the nonprofit about $11.6 million in the red as of 2016.
The report indicated Old White Charities allocated about 4 percent of its total spending on actual charitable causes between 2010 and 2015.
From 2010 to 2016, the nonprofit reported donating $4.9 million to various charities and has received $16.5 million itself in gifts and grants, the newspaper reported.
Justice, in a 20-minute lecture delivered during media day for last year’s golf tournament, described some of the financial pressures.
“I have almost zero to do with the Greenbrier now and to be perfectly honest,” he said in the windup to his speech.
But he said he felt compelled to speak about the challenges of recovering from the flood, about the struggles of dealing with the insurers and about questions that were coming from the public.
“Now think about this just for a second. The same stones that are cast all over the place and says ‘Well, is The Greenbrier going under or is The Greenbrier dead? Or why isn’t this getting done?’” Justice told the media day crowd.
He said that day that he and his family don’t deserve criticism over West Virginia’s flood recovery effort or how The Greenbrier has fared in the two years since the flood.
“But your stones are terrible. They’re terrible toward an incredibly good family that never wanted a thing, never wanted a thing,” he said.
“A family that has given tens of tens of tens of millions to make this tournament a reality for you, for West Virginia. This family never wanted a thing. Never wanted a thing for running or governor. The last thing on earth I want is to sit here and act like in any way and if anybody says I’m trying to promote the Greenbrier, you’re crazy.”