By Dianne Weaver

A criminal investigation of House Education Chairman Jerry Mezzatesta has been launched in Kanawha County by Prosecutor Mike Clifford.

The investigation comes a day after former Kanawha County school board candidate Tifney Terry said the West Virginia Ethics Commission was misled into dismissing an ethics complaint against the Hampshire County Democrat.

Terry has said Mezzatesta and state schools Superintendent David Stewart "lied" under oath that Mezzatesta had not solicited a state grant for his employer, the Hampshire County Board of Education.

Mezzatesta was not to take such action, being a legislator and being an employee of Hampshire schools.

Mezzatesta had launched an effort to return Stewart to his position after Stewart resigned from the state superintendent's job, giving a passionate speech on the house floor and seeking to increase the official's salary to $200,000.

The state ethics commission had dismissed all the complaints against Mezzatesta, related to his double-dipping and obtaining a $70,000 education grant, some of which he reportedly used for funding local fire departments.

Mezzatesta has also brought $800,000 of "Mezz Money" back to his home county from the Budget Digest, a legal pork barrel system where certain legislators appear to be rewarded for their support of the house and senate leadership.

Mezzatesta is also charged with changing the school funding formula to benefit his county.

State School Superintendent David Stewart now appears to have recanted his sworn testimony after letters he wrote were posted on a web site.

Several West Virginia newspapers have written editorials calling for the abolishment of the State Ethics Commission.