Gov. Jim Justice, now the frontrunner for U.S. Senate after incumbent Joe Manchin’s announcement that he will not seek re-election, acknowledges many but not all of his big debts on a mandatory financial disclosure.
Justice’s financial disclosure for Senate, filed a few weeks ago, reports between $37.5 million and $108.1 million in liabilities such as promissory notes, lines of credit and judgments.
That leaves out major debts that have been the subject of financial and legal conflict — along with regular news reports. In some cases, Justice personally guaranteed loans valued at hundreds of millions of dollars.
“When it comes to the Senate disclosure, if he personally guaranteed the loans, they should be listed as liabilities on his personal financial disclosure,” said Jordan Libowitz, communications director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
$620 million to Credit Suisse
One of the biggest debts came to light through a major international banking collapse. The Wall Street Journal first reported Justice’s personal liability in a story headlined “West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice Is Personally Liable for $700 Million in Greensill Loans.”
“Yes, I did personally guarantee the loans,” Justice said in a 2021 news briefing.
The bad loans by Greensill were passed along to the international lender Credit Suisse. The Justice family’s coal properties announced an agreement in mid-2022 with Credit Suisse over millions of dollars in debt. Earlier this year, Justice’s family started exploring the sale of coal assets to satisfy the debt.
The debt figure was said to be negotiated down to $620 million.
$300 million to Carter Bank
Another big debt, $300 million, is being claimed by longtime lender Carter Bank & Trust of Virginia.
Carter Bank filed to collect on 11 cases of confessed judgments, which are written and signed agreements accepting liability in instances of default. The claims name Jim Justice, his wife Cathy and their adult son Jay, who is the named executive of the family’s coal operations.
The confessed judgments filed by Carter Bank apply to loans on James C. Justice Companies, Justice Family Group, Greenbrier Hotel Corp., Greenbrier Golf and Tennis Club, Greenbrier Sporting Club, Players Club LLC, Oakhurst Club, Greenbrier Medical Institute, Justice Low Seam Mining, Twin Fir Estates and Wilcox Industries.
Those loans had come due April 15, and Carter Bank contended the Justices defaulted by not paying.
At 3 p.m. this coming Wednesday in Martinsville Circuit Court, attorneys for Carter Bank will present oral arguments about why the court should deny motions by the Justice businesses to set aside the confessed judgment.
Federal code says senators and candidates should report the identity and category of value of total liabilities owed to any creditor other than close family members exceeding $10,000 at any time during the preceding calendar year. The value can be a good-faith estimate.
Justice’s report shows promissory notes from First Guaranty Bank of Louisiana and People’s Bank of Lewisburg. It shows a line of credit for up to $50,000 from J.P. Morgan Chase. And there are 0 percent interest lines of credit from some of Justice’s own businesses — Greenbrier Hotel Corp., Tams Management, Bellwood Corp. and Black River Farms.
Judgments listed as being payable on demand include up to $5 million for XCoal Energy Resources, up to $5 million for MVB Bank and up to $1 million for Citizens Bank of WV.
Asked during a news briefing last week why bigger debts to Credit Suisse or Carter Bank weren’t reflected on the Senate disclosure, Justice didn’t seem to understand the question. An element of the question asked for insight on why Justice’s state ethics disclosure has a checked box to indicate he has no debts at all.
“On the official disclosure,” Justice beganbefore referring the question to his chief of staff, “I don’t really remember exactly what the question was about the official disclosure stuff.”
MetroNews emailed Justice’s Senate campaign to ask for greater clarity, but hasn’t heard back so far.
At the conclusion of the news briefing, Justice pushed back on regular questions from reporters about his family’s business dealings.
“From the standpoint of Jim’s house, it’ll be fine,” he said. “You can worry about it and jump up and down about it and everything else. But really and truly, Jim’s house will be fine.”
Regular people would not be expected to be open about their worth, their investment or their liabilities, said Delaney Marsco, senior legal counsel for ethics at Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit government watchdog organization that supports strong enforcement of United States campaign finance laws.
But senators and candidates for Senate are not regular people. They are asking for power to shape American policy.
“We don’t fault people for having liabilities. Debt is a part of life for many Americans. We don’t fault people even for being super wealthy,” Marsco said in an interview with MetroNews.
However, “People who are incredibly wealthy or people who have all this debt, they may be susceptible to influence themselves. The voters have a right to this information. That’s why we get stressed out when we see things that are potentially omitted.”
Personal liabilities, generally, should be reported. Any changes could be subject to an amended disclosure filing, she said.
“Any knowing and willful omission on these forms does subject the person to potential criminal and civil penalties,” Marsco said. “We see first time filers making honest mistakes. We wouldn’t call for like a criminal prosecution of somebody who said ‘I didn’t understand this was required to be reported.’”
In any case, she said, it’s an important service to the public to provide a full accounting of financial interests.
“When you want to be a member of Congress, it’s a different game. You have a lot of power and a lot of responsibility,” Marsco said. “They’re giving you that power and you owe them something in return. It’s the least you can do to fill out a form about your financial investment.”