The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 2, 2014

Audit findings turned over to feds

Ag Department activities prior to 2013 under scrutiny

By Pamela Pritt
Register-Herald Reporter

— A typical audit request by a newly-elected state official has led to a federal investigation.

Activities in the Department of Agriculture prior to 2013 are the subject of that audit, which Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, and Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, have turned over to U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin.

Miley said current Commissioner of Agriculture Walt Helmick asked for the audit shortly after taking office last year.

“To date, the audit has revealed very troubling activities and management practices by the Agriculture Department’s previous administration, including questionable accounting methods, expense reimbursements and loans administered by the agency,” Miley said in the release.

In an e-mail response, Helmick confirmed that he requested the audit, and that he supports the decision to turn over the audit findings to federal authorities.

“We have recently been made aware that some accounting and management practices from the previous administration have been called into question and that Senate President Jeff Kessler and House Speaker Tim Miley have requested that those findings be turned over to the U.S. Attorney,” Helmick said.

Helmick also said he intends to “do whatever is needed to assist in this investigation.”

Miley and Kessler ordered the legislative auditor to turn the information over to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

 “Neither President Kessler, Commissioner Helmick nor I tolerate any activities that lack integrity or violate the public trust. We will continue to provide law enforcement with any information necessary to assist in its investigation,” Miley said.

 “Meanwhile, as we await completion of the audit, President Kessler and I will be working with Commissioner Helmick to facilitate any legislative changes necessary to ensure greater accountability and to tighten statutory controls over the activities identified in the audit."

 Previous Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass was first elected to the office in 1964, and served non-consecutive terms through 2012.

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