Getting caught doesn’t hurt
What’s the difference between many of those serving long sentences in West Virginia prisons and some government officials in our state?
If you said, “they got caught,” you’re wrong.
We know the culprits behind at least some of the wrongdoing in government, but too often, we don’t do much, if anything, about it. They’re allowed to resign or retire from their jobs, often remaining eligible for state pensions and health insurance. On the rare occasions when someone does file charges, sentences are lenient.
Getting caught doesn’t hurt much, in other words.
Whether that changes during the new year will become apparent on Jan. 30, when Menis Ketchum is sentenced.
Ketchum, you’ll recall, was the first casualty in the state Supreme Court cleanup earlier this year. He resigned from his position as a justice, then pleaded guilty to a federal charge involving misuse of a state credit card and state vehicle. It seems Ketchum had been using the car for trips to play golf in Virginia. He used the credit card to put gasoline in a Buick.
It’s tempting to decide Ketchum deserves a slap-on-the-wrist sentence. Hey, it’s a mistake anyone could make, right?
Except that, between 2012-16, Ketchum did it eight times.
That cost taxpayers about $200 per trip.
Of course, there’s the matter of moral fraud, which unfortunately isn’t a crime. Ketchum was at the very top of the criminal justice ladder in West Virginia. By his actions, he broke faith in a very big way with Mountain State residents.
So did former Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry, convicted of 11 federal charges involving misdeeds while in office. His moral fraud was even worse: Loughry wrote the book on corruption. Titled “Don’t Buy Another Vote, I Won’t Pay for a Landslide: The Sordid and Continuing History of Political Corruption in West Virginia,” it most likely helped get him elected.
If anything, crimes by two high court justices may have diverted attention from the pervasive problem of corruption and waste in government. It affects all levels of officialdom.
Here in Ohio County, for example, residents await the next chapter in the saga of former Magistrate Harry Radcliffe. Last summer, he was charged with multiple federal crimes including bribery and tax fraud. Radcliffe allegedly was steering criminal defendants to a certain bail bond company, in exchange for payoffs.
But there’s another sort of corruption that permeates government. It’s non-criminal fraud by state and local employees who don’t do their jobs adequately, who know they aren’t doing so — and take steps to cover up their errors, waste and laziness.
Need I mention the infamous RISE West Virginia program? Aid to victims of 2016 flooding in West Virginia, fueled by a $150 million federal grant, was delayed so long Federal Emergency Management Agency officials put us on a “slow-spender” list.
It turns out we could have speeded up the process by hiring more people to handle it. FEMA provided money for us to do that — but the cash wasn’t spent.
And, by the way, FEMA’s displeasure with our handling of the federal funds was kept from high-ranking state officials who might have done something about it, had they known.
At last report, the official responsible for much of that fiasco, Jimmy Gianato, remained on the state payroll.
There’s much, much more. It comes out from time to time in reports about ethics violations and arrests for crimes such as a bid-rigging scheme at the Division of Highways (2014 and 2017). Occasionally, misdeeds are punished by suspensions, transfers and, less frequently, firings.
Yet the stinking mess of corruption, both criminal and bureaucratic, continues in West Virginia.
It will end only when Mountain State residents demand that a concerted effort be made to root out corruption and punish offenders severely.
New year’s resolution, anyone?
Myer can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.