Officials await probe results
The leaders of the House of Delegates and state Senate say they will await results of separate criminal probes at two state agencies before deciding if the Legislature should conduct investigations of its own.
House Speaker Rick Thompson and Senate President Jeff Kessler said Wednesday they prefer to let separate investigations into incidents at the Regional Jail Authority and Department of Health and Human Resources play out.
"It's not our job to interfere," said Kessler, D-Marshall. "If they're being investigated by a law enforcement agency or official, we will certainly let them do their job and their work without political interference of any kind."
On Tuesday, West Virginia State Police searched DHHR offices in Charleston for evidence in an investigation of three employees who may have illegally interfered with a multi-million dollar marketing contract.
A search warrant filed in Kanawha Circuit Court said three employees - DHHR deputy secretary for legal affairs Susan Perry, general counsel Jennifer Taylor and assistant secretary John Law - might have tried to unlawfully influence the department's decision on a lucrative marketing contract.
The three were placed on leave with pay in mid-July.
Taylor and Perry have filed notice of their intent to sue the state. They claim they were whistleblowers who questioned the decision-making process for the contract.
Kanawha Prosecuting Attorney Mark Plants will ultimately decide whether to file charges.
The other case involves an alleged surveillance device that Regional Jail Authority operations chief John Lopez found in his office in early July.
At the time, Lopez and acting director Joe DeLong were both candidates for the director position. DeLong was hired last month; Lopez has since left the agency.
DeLong and Joe Thornton, secretary of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, both have said they had no role in placing the device in Lopez's office.
Lopez reportedly turned over the device to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is looking into the incident.
Thompson said placement of the device could be a federal crime.
"It concerns me, obviously, if it was in fact being investigated by the FBI and if it did in fact occur, but I don't know the answer to either one of those questions," said Thompson, D-Wayne. "Wiretapping is a federal crime; obviously we wouldn't condone or approve of that."
Kessler, a former prosecutor, said it's possible some state laws against recording conversations without someone's consent could have been broken, but he believed the FBI was the best agency to handle the investigation at this stage.
"It does look like it is being looked into by the appropriate authorities," he said. "If that's the case, we'll wait and see how that plays out, and then we'll see if maybe there's any state action that may need to be taken, either by the committee on special investigations or some other type of appropriate legislative committee."
Both men said the Legislature would cooperate fully with any investigation, although they anticipated the two cases would be confined to the agencies under scrutiny.
"If they ask for any cooperation or assistance, I'm sure we would lend it," Kessler said. "But at this point it appears it is being conducted independently by another agency, so we'll see what they do."
Contact writer Jared Hunt at email@example.com or 304-348-5148.