|By Eric Eyre|
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Clay County authorities are investigating a Roane County man with a long criminal history who allegedly has promised to hire up to 250 employees and build 4,000 apartments in the town of Clay.
William R. Whitteker, 57, of Amma, took job applications Monday morning outside an abandoned IGA supermarket in Clay, officials said. He has promised to pay workers $13 to $16 an hour with benefits, but has failed to articulate a workable business plan and explain what the jobs will entail, Clay authorities said.
About 200 Clay County residents have filled out applications, Whitteker told county commissioners Monday.
The Clay County Commission and Sheriff's Department are cautioning jobseekers not to sign a contract with Whitteker or give him money, pending the conclusion of the investigation.
"We have some preliminary information, and we're checking him out," said Sheriff Randy Holcomb, who confronted Whitteker about his business plans Monday. "He's got quite a bit of history. We've just skimmed the top of the water so far."
Holcomb planned to meet with Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Samples about Whitteker Monday afternoon.
A "work agreement" posted on Whitteker's Panserco Web site requires potential employees to pay a $144 "administrative and registration fee" as an employment condition, but it was unknown Monday whether Whitteker was collecting the fee from job applicants.
County commissioners, who spoke with Whitteker Monday, said the Roane County businessman's plans make little sense.
"There are just so many things that don't add up," said Commissioner Mike Pierson. "It's off-the-wall stuff he's coming up with. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."
Commissioners fear county residents might quit their jobs and apply for the higher-paying employment promised by Whitteker, Panserco's president and CEO.
"These are very low-income people looking for jobs," Pierson said. "We're worried people will quit their jobs and go to work for him and be left out in the cold."
The commission has notified the state Attorney General's Office Consumer Protection Division about Whitteker and Panserco, which has a valid state business license. The Attorney General's office started looking into the matter Monday.
"If people are being asked to pay money when they apply for a job, they should be very wary of this," said Assistant Attorney General Norman Googel.
Whitteker could not be reached for comment Monday. His telephone has been disconnected. Whitteker has said his Roane County home was recently destroyed in a fire, according to Clay authorities.
Whitteker has been arrested and charged with crimes that date back to the 1980s in Kanawha, Cabell and Roane counties in West Virginia, and in Kentucky, Washington, Wyoming, Ohio and Oregon, authorities said. At least three reports against Whitteker allege he was violent against children.
In the late 1980s, he was convicted of fraud for persuading people to invest money in a bogus plan to build a mass transit system. Whitteker spent six months in jail on that charge, staging a hunger strike during a two-week period. Several judges have referred Whitteker for psychiatric evaluations.
Whitteker first showed up in Clay several weeks ago, Clay officials said.
He recently signed a $750,000 contract to purchase the former IGA building in Clay by Oct. 1. Whitteker held an organizational meeting for prospective employees Saturday in Clay, witnesses said. He plans to use the building as a "contact center" for communications between various countries, they said.
In documents on Panserco's Web site, Whitteker describes his business plan as a "three-dimensional global economic generator."
"This plan establishes a greater neighborhood economy through use of mass purchasing, reduction of administrative costs and duplication of expenses," Whitteker writes.
His plan promises to eventually employ 2.5 billion "global workers" and includes a "self-sufficient security force." The proposal also calls for dividing the world up into "municipal geographic areas" based on a grid system.
Each area would have exactly 6,304 houses, a shopping mall with exactly 64 shops, and an "octagon building for commercial functions."
The Panserco Web site includes diagrams of "workhomes" for employees and grid maps. There's also a mass transit plan that sets a limit on the number of vehicles per square mile worldwide.
Some Clay County jobseekers have told commissioners that Whitteker has promised to pay off their mortgages, if they agree to come to work for Panserco.
"This is insanity," said Jane Cook, who hosts a classic country and bluegrass music show on Clay County's WYAP radio station. "He thinks he's coming into some hollow and he's going to get people to follow the pied piper. I just don't want people to blindly walk off a cliff."
In the late 1990s, Whitteker spent three years on probation after pleading no contest to a loitering charge. Whitteker was accused of bursting into Overbrook Elementary School and yelling at teachers.
Whitteker was convicted of a similar charge two years earlier at the former Tiskelwah Elementary School. His daughters attended Tiskelwah before moving to Overbrook.
Whitteker also was accused of striking two children with his hand and one with a rock when he lived in Cabell County in the early 1990s, according to police reports.
Reach Eric Eyre at email@example.com or 304-348-4869.