State school board chief says he’s not buddy-buddy’ with Manchin
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The state Board of Education president who voted to abruptly fire state schools Superintendent Jorea Marple says he is a businessman, not a politician. But board President Wade Linger has made inroads with North Central West Virginia's two powerful political factions, the Manchins and Mollohans.
Linger, who has worked at or owned a string of technology companies, is a self-proclaimed "big supporter" of former Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va.
And, in the early-1990s, Linger, a computer programmer, also caught the eye of current U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
Linger met Manchin, then a state senator, through West Virginia technology entrepreneur Doug Kirby. Kirby was then married to Manchin's daughter, Heather Bresch.
In making connections with both Manchin and Mollohan, Linger was able to bridge the long-rumored divide between the two political families.
"That should tell you something," Linger said, pointing to his relationship with both Manchin and Mollohan as a sign he is not so much a political animal as someone working "straight down the line" for the benefit of the state.
"I respect them for what they do and I think they respect me for what I do, but in neither case is it a buddy-buddy, where it's, 'I'm you're friend so I can't be his friend,' " Linger said.
Nonetheless, Linger is now accused of being part of a "Manchin faction" that ousted Marple, the wife of just-defeated Democratic Attorney General Darrell McGraw.
Linger - and Manchin's Board of Education member wife Gayle - deny politics are behind the decision.
Joe Manchin, then governor, appointed Linger to the Board of Education in November 2008. The governor then praised Linger's "business acumen and technology-related background." In 2011, board members voted to make Linger the board's president.
Linger, 55, grew up in Putnam County. Then his family moved to Spencer, where he went to 7th and 8th grade before the Lingers moved to Virginia.
Linger spent eight years in the Air Force.
Then Linger joined ManTech International Corp., a large Virginia-based federal defense contractor.
In 1992, the company wanted someone to go open an office in Fairmont.
Linger, then a midlevel manager, said large companies that were doing business in Fairmont were using subcontractors from the small, fledging high-tech sector that Mollohan was trying to start in the area.
"We were expected to share a decent amount of the work with them, so I got to meet all these small companies that were starting up back in the day," Linger said.
He met the big names of the time, including Kirby and Bresch, the then-married founders of Tygart Technology. Linger said he met Manchin through the two.
Bresch and Kirby have since separated. She is now CEO of Mylan Inc., the generic drug maker. She was at the center of a scandal in 2007 when West Virginia University officials retroactively awarded her a graduate degree. The scandal eventually forced the departure of WVU President Mike Garrison and other top university officials.
Tygart drew attention in 2006 because it had done at least $100,000 in business with the Secretary of State's Office, both during and after Manchin's tenure there. The state auditor said there appeared to be no criminal intent involved in the firm's hiring.
Manchin's spokeswoman said at the time that Manchin's office began regularly using Tygart after the company was hired by another technology firm - TMC Technologies Inc. - to help with other state projects.
Linger founded TMC in 1996. He had just finished a stint as the vice president of the West Virginia High Tech Consortium, a group devoted to helping technology startups.
"I decided to it's time to stop telling others to start and run a company, it's time to just do your own," Linger said. "So I did - practiced what I preached, I guess - and started my own company."
TMC started out with just Linger and his wife in a room with a fax machine and a telephone.
By 2004, the company had 85 people, according to Linger, and $9 million in revenue, according to a profile of the company published by The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.
A healthy chunk of North Central West Virginia's work was fueled by money former Sen. Robert Byrd and Mollohan helped bring to the state.
Linger credits both men and was an outspoken supporter of Mollohan.
"I was a big supporter of Alan Mollohan and the reason I was a big supporter of Alan Mollohan is he brought in a lot of opportunities for high tech businesses to be created and grow in North Central West Virginia," Linger said.
Linger, his wife and his former employees gave tens of thousands of dollars to Mollohan's campaigns and to a charitable organization in honor of the congressman's father.
In 2006, Bloomberg reported Linger and his wife gave at least $54,450 to Mollohan's political committees and TMC and its employees gave another $20,950. Bloomberg also reported that TMC gave thousands to the Robert H. Mollohan Family Charitable Foundation.
Alan Mollohan was the foundation's secretary. The group is named after his father.
The FBI investigated Mollohan's personal finances and his ties to companies and charities in his district. No charges were ever filed and the investigation ended in 2010.
Linger draws a "big distinction" between himself and other Mollohan supporters and tech companies that won federal work. Namely, Linger said he was not "one of those guys" because TMC did not move into a much-scrutinized, mostly empty, multi-million dollar tech park that Mollohan helped get federal money to open.
"I never moved in that park, I never moved my company into that park, so there's a line between being real buddy, buddy with somebody and just being a supporter," Linger said.
TMC did a healthy business as a federal contractor, including millions in work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Linger said TMC helped the agency's scientists more easily access data from four agency data centers across the country.
TMC helped others plan how to capture and store large amounts of data. Eventually, the work appealed to Maryland-based Global Science & Technology, which bought TMC in March 2005.
After he sold the company, Linger started a custom car garage while he was under a no-compete contract. The garage is known, simply enough, as Wade's Garage.
"I assure you, it's not a moneymaker," Linger said.
On Friday, Linger had traveled to San Francisco to do a half-hour repair to one customer's car. He used the already scheduled trip to give himself and his wife a break from the scrutiny - and litigation - Linger has faced since firing Marple. Nevertheless, Linger spent two hours on the phone with Daily Mail reporters, which he said drew at least one glare from his wife.
Between his kids and stepson, he has five children ranging in age from 23 to 32.
After his no-competition agreement ended, Linger started another company in 2010. The new company is known, simply enough, as TMC2.
Linger said his current company does not have any kind of ties to K-12 education contracts, but has done $37,000 in work for Pierpont Community and Technical College.