ED-WATCH - Mezz Mess Keeps On Keeping On

(03/07/2006)

Six Hampshire County school employees have received subpoenas as part of a federal investigation into the school system's finances and a grant solicited by former school board employee and House of Delegates Education Committee Chairman Jerry Mezzatesta.

Most of the employees work at the board office. They have been ordered to testify on March 21 before a federal grand jury in Martinsburg.

By Dianne Weaver

The FBI and a special agent with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Inspector General hand-delivered the subpoenas.

"It will be our full intention to cooperate with federal officials," said state schools Superintendent Steve Paine.

The state board just seized control of the Hampshire County system, citing numerous personnel, management and financial problems.

Federal agents have previously interviewed Hampshire County and Department of Education administrators.

They have specifically requested information about a $75,000 grant that was initially intended for a sheltered workshop in Romney.

Mezzatesta allegedly diverted $35,000 of the $75,000 grant to a library and volunteer fire departments in Hampshire County.

He passed out checks to volunteer fire departments during a 2004 Hampshire County Democratic political rally called the "Bean and Cornbread Supper."

Hampshire County schools later returned $35,000 to the state Department of Education.

Mezzatesta, besides being the chairman of the House Education Committee, worked as a Hampshire school board office administrator. He was fired in April 2005, after he lost re-election.

Hampshire County schools Superintendent David Friend resigned shortly before the state board took over Hampshire schools.

Friend and Mezzatesta were named in a 33-page audit report that outlined Hampshire school problems. Office employees told auditors that Friend and Mezzatesta "threatened, verbally abused and intimidated them," saying they were told to do things that were "highly irregular."

Mezzatesta and his wife pled no contest to a misdemeanor charge that they deleted or altered legislative computer records at the state Capitol.

He was widely defended by then state superintendent of schools Dave Stewart.

Mezzatesta's wife said that he dictated a phony letter to the state Ethics Commission.


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