By Dianne Weaver

The once powerful House Education Chairman Jerry Mezzatesta and former Hampshire County Schools Superintendent David Friend have been indicted on federal charges in Martinsburg.

Mezzatesta and a handful of legislators worked closely with the State Board of Education to consolidate many West Virginia schools, promising financial savings and a better education for children.

In reality the venture created long bus rides for thousands of children and the loss of community-based schools, which research shows produces better educational results.

The legislature is now launching a study to look at the results.

Mezzatesta and Friend are accused of defrauding the school board and misappropriating public funds.

If convicted on both counts, each faces up to 15 years in prison.

The charges center on a $75,000 grant Mezzatesta sought in 2003 for Hampshire County schools, where he "doubled-dipped," working as a school administrator.

In 2004, Friend asked state officials for permission to spend the money instead on Red Cross and emergency services facilities. About $35,000 went to a library and six volunteer fire departments, which Mezzatesta reportedly handed out.

The indictment alleges that Mezzatesta, a nine-term Democrat, diverted the money to gain an advantage in his 2004 re-election campaign. He was not re-elected.

Mezzatesta was found to have violated state ethics rules and was convicted of a state charge of destroying legislative computer records in an alleged cover-up.

Friend resigned from the school system in January.

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