|By Bob Weaver|
A few years ago, when an unusual proposition was put forth, a popular comedy sketch on Saturday Night Life questioned the deal.
The church lady, played by Dana Carvey, would exclaim "Isn't that special!" or sometimes "Well, isn't that convenient!"
West Virginia legislators doing business with the state (i.e. taxpayers money) is a common occurrence, unless there is some kind of violation where the legislator uses their position through some kind of underhandedness or intimidation to get the deal.
You may remember Sen. Oshel Craigo trying to sell Putnam County real estate to the state. While it was not illegal or unethical, such maneuvering, may have led to his defeat as a long-time member of the House of Delegates. He was chairman of the House Finance Committee.
Surfacing again, Southern Amusements, a name well-connected to gambling operations, equipment and the State Lottery.
Law enforcement, including federal agents, have just searched the company, a business that belongs to a member of the House of Delegates. Several police cars surrounded and entered the business, which now belongs to Delegate Joe C. Ferrell, D-Logan.
Ferrell has a long history of involvement in county and state government, associated with people who are currently under investigation, and others who have been found guilty of illegal activity.
Ferrell bought Southern Amusement in 1995 from the family of state senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan.
Tomblin’s father, Earl “Tom” Tomblin, a former Logan County sheriff and county clerk, pleaded guilty to election fraud charges in the early 1990s.
But the accountability is a lot tougher for elected county officials, like Gilmer county commissioner Larry Chapman, who was just charged with selling some products to the county from his Western Auto Store.
Lower level officials dare not sell to the government, a no-no covered by a state stature going back to the 19th century.
The same set of statues requires lower-level officials to be accountable for balancing budgets, otherwise the higher-level officials can actually take the officials property to make it right.
Certainly there is no such accountability with the feds, who have crossed new thresholds in expanding the national debt to the highest level ever conceived by human minds.
So, the "Isn't that special!" rule for state legislators is quite open to interpretation, allowing many to "cash-in" with their knowledge, opportunity and influence.
There are many examples. One delegate, who is the biggest janitorial supplier to the state, has made lots of money. There certainly is no problem with the Senate president Tomblin's mother getting about a quarter-million dollars to train greyhounds.
This weeks search of Southern Amusements could be linked to on-going investigations in southern WV related to voter fraud.
Federal officials have been conducting an election fraud probe centered in Logan and Lincoln counties.
In 1992, Ferrell pleaded guilty to paying to have his name placed on political slates. He said then he had no plans to re-enter political office, but ran for the House and was elected in 1998. He was re-elected in 2000, 2002 and 2004.
Former Logan County Sheriff John Mendez resigned his post and entered a plea for paying people to purchase votes. Former Logan Police Chief Alvin R. Porter also resigned his job and pleaded guilty to paying for votes.
Logan County attorney Mark Hrutkay entered a plea to paying Mendez for his wife, Democratic Delegate Lidella Hrutkay, to be placed on political slates in the county in 2002.
Currently facing election fraud charges are Lincoln County Clerk Greg Stowers and four other Lincoln County residents.