STAFFORD AFFLICTED THE COMFORTABLE - Mountain State Corruption, Outright Stealing

By Bob Weaver 2006

The late Thomas Stafford's reporting led to pressure from West Virginia politicians and power brokers that forced him to give up his beloved career as a journalist.

He still held to his convictions about corruption in the Mountain State, as a long-time reporter for the Charleston Gazette.

Stafford, has now had his book "Afflicting the Comfortable," published by WVU Press.

His probes would take him from the halls of the capitol to the center of our nation's ruling elite.

Guided by his sense of duty, right, and fairness, he plunged head first into the misdeeds of West Virginia's politicians.

In 1990, The New York Times wrote, "Government corruption was not invented in West Virginia. But there are people who contend that West Virginia officials have done more than their share over the years to develop state-of-the-art techniques in vote theft, contract kickbacks, influence peddling and good old-fashioned bribery, extortion, fraud, tax evasion and outright stealing."

In "Afflicting the Comfortable," Stafford relates the responsibility of journalism over scandals that have plagued the Mountain State during the past few decades.

He writes about seven governors from the early 1940s through the early 1990s: Matthew Neely, Clarence "Fats" Meadows, Okey Patterson, William Casey Marland, Cecil Underwood, W.W. "Wally" Barron, Hulett Smith, Arch Moore, Jay Rockefeller and Gaston Caperton.

His investigations led to the downfall of governors and an administration that robbed the state and the citizens of West Virginia for years.

Before governor W. W. Barron went to prison, Barron and some of his allies backed Republican candidate Arch Moore for governor over state Democratic Party Chairman James Sprouse.

Moore's victory was helped by a libelous story the Charleston Daily Mail printed about Sprouse just before the election.

Sprouse later won a $350,000 libel suit against the paper.

Stafford wrote about Moore's questionable actions during two terms as governor between 1969 and 1977. Moore pleaded guilty during his third term between 1985 and 1989. In 1990 Moore extorted $573,000 from Beckley coal operator H. Paul Kizer, after which he went to federal prison.

Moore was also charged with accepting $62,500 in payoffs from Island Creek Coal and two other individuals.

Gov. W. W. Barron and his aides rigged bids for services and equipment and drafted state contracts to favor specific companies.

Barron's group then funneled payoffs from state contractors to themselves through a complicated maze of bank accounts and 17 different companies from Florida to Ohio.

Barron and his colleagues took in nearly $25 million in bribes and payoffs.

Stafford got a tip regarding the scam talking with House Speaker Julius Singleton at the Charleston Press Club.

Gov. William Marland and Gov. W. W. Barron both had alcohol problems.

Stafford covered the 1960 Democratic Party primary, where John F. Kennedy assured his presidential nomination by beating Hubert Humphrey in West Virginia.

"West Virginia was never so remembered by Washington as it was during the next three years," Stafford wrote.

Kennedy also launched food stamps in McDowell, Logan and Mingo counties, which is still a nationwide program.

Stafford dedicates his book to Ned Chilton, for many years one of the nation's most aggressive newsmen, saying he was blessed over having a publisher who really believed in the First Amendment.

He said Gov. Caperton faced major budget deficits left by Moore, including a $9.4 million debt to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the clean-up of Buffalo Creek.

Three days before leaving office in 1977, Moore accepted a $1 million settlement offer from Pittston Coal.

That settlement absolved Pittston of any further debt to the state created by the collapse of its mine dams that left 125 people dead and 4,000 homeless.

Pittson said the disaster was an act of God.

Stafford said his life as a reporter involving late-night hours and was often frustrating when it took months to put together a complicated story.

Stafford said he was offered numerous pay-offs and bribes. "To try to avoid the numerous pitfalls," he wrote, "early on I adopted Harry Truman's maxim - 'Only what I can eat or drink in a day.'"

Stafford ended his reporting career in 1966, as a result of increasing tensions that caused chronic hemorrhaging ulcers. He then worked 19 more years as chief clerk for U.S. District Judge Robert E. Maxwell in Elkins, passing away in 1993.

Stafford ends his book stating with "The responsibility of the press to afflict the comfortable never ends. The press was intended by the Founding Fathers to serve as part of the established system of checks and balances that help to protect and preserve our form of government."

"Afflicting the Comfortable" visit the WVU Press Web site at or call toll-free (866) 988-7737. It is also available at