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More headaches for penal system

August 27, 2012
The Inter-Mountain

Enough challenges must be overcome by those in charge of West Virginia's penal system without adding spy-movie shenanigans to the mix. Because someone is engaged in them, however, officials have no choice but to place the matter high on their list of headaches.

Just weeks before he became permanent head of the Regional Jail Authority this summer, Hancock County native Joe DeLong learned of the problem.

It seems that on July 12, the authority's chief of operations, John Lopez, noticed tiny pieces of ceiling tile in his office chair. Upon inspection it was found someone had placed an audio/video recording device in an air duct above Lopez's desk.

Later that month, legislators became aware of the discovery and of the fact the FBI was investigating the "bug." At that time, DeLong was serving as the authority's interim executive director, and he told lawmakers that to his knowledge, the recording device was not part of any official investigation by the authority.

Legislators seem content to allow the FBI to pursue a probe, and that probably is wise.

If DeLong has not already begun his own investigation, however, he should do so. Simply ignoring the covert surveillance operation that targeted Lopez - and possibly others in the authority - should not be an option.

Until the culprit behind the bugging is caught, morale will suffer among employees at the authority. After all, who wouldn't be at least a little upset at the possibility their conversations and other activities, no matter how innocent, were being taped surreptitiously?

Legislators and the general public have a right to know what investigators turn up. Not just who was behind the taping but also what motive was involved are the public's business because the authority is a taxpayer-funded entity.

Again, the authority faces several daunting challenges, led by overcrowding at regional jails. But because the bugging may well affect how officials respond to those problems, finding the culprit should be a priority.



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