Eyewitness News iTeam looks into West Virginia Supreme Court spending of state vehicles
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WCHS/WVAH) —
A recent I-Team investigation looked into how West Virginia Supreme Court justices used state-owned vehicles. The Legislative Auditor's Office also explored the issue and published a scathing report about the court's management of its fleet.
Both the I-Team investigation and the legislative audit uncovered several inconsistencies into how the Supreme Court was managing its state-owned fleet.
Both probes found hundreds of instances where justices appeared to be using state vehicles for their own personal business.
While Justice Menis Ketchum has agreed with the audit findings, paid some money back to the state and amended his tax returns to reflect his behavior, Justice Allen Loughry has not. But many questions still remain about Loughry's use of cars for which taxpayers paid.
The legislative audit found from 2013 through 2016, Loughry used a state vehicle for a total of 212 days. Of those, 148 days, or nearly 70 percent of the time, Loughry provided no information as to the reasons he checked out a car nor where he was going.
Auditors reached the conclusion that Loughry must have had some reason other than official business for reserving the vehicles.
“We came to the conclusion that there was no stated business reason for Justice Loughry's travel, no explanation,” West Virginia Legislative Auditor Aaron Allred said.
Loughry responded to the audit with a letter to the court administrator. In it, he wrote, "I disagree with the factual and legal assumptions made, the standards and definitions applied, and the conclusions ultimately reached in the draft audit report."
The justice offered no explanation, however, nor evidence to refute the audit's findings.
“It was surprising that it basically said not only that we were wrong but that our facts were incorrect. When we do an audit, we base the audit first and foremost on documentary evidence, for example, his travel receipts,” Allred said.
The I-Team has examined thousands of documents and receipts related to the court's state-owned fleet. We found the reports lacking in destinations and reasons for use. We also came across some peculiar refueling patterns that raise questions that have not been answered.
In October 2013, Loughry checked out the Buick LaCrosse from the third to the seventh, a Thursday to a Monday. Two fuel stops are shown during that time, in Berkeley Springs and Charlottesville, Va.
Loughry's in-laws live in the Berkeley Springs area. Once again, no reason for the car use nor destination was given.
That pattern is repeated several times through the years.
Just a month later on Thanksgiving Day, Loughry once again had the LaCrosse. Credit card receipts show the vehicle was refueled three different times in Morgantown, Elkview and Charleston, all on Thanksgiving Day.
On Dec. 20, 2013, Loughry checked out the vehicle for 14 days. He didn't tell anyone why or where he was going, but credit card receipts show he refueled three times during that period in Elkview and Charleston. Odometer reports show the car was driven 750 miles, but we don't know where it went or why.
“We asked him if he had made any reimbursements to the state, and we heard nothing back from Justice Loughry,” Allred said.
Over the next several years, Loughry's pattern of vehicle use continued, covering thousands of miles and thousands of dollars in gas purchases with no explanation.
“They also have the problem of the IRS rules require that you document what your policies and procedures are on dealing with vehicle use. The Supreme Court didn't do that, which raises it to a whole new level of how can you claim any tax-free fringe benefit if you don't follow the rules. And it's pretty clear that if you don't have any policies and procedures, everything is a taxable fringe benefit,” Allred said.
There also are questions surrounding Loughry's use of rental cars during out-of-state trips.
The legislative audit examined seven different trips Loughry took from 2013 to 2017.
During those trips, there are 2,874 miles that are unaccounted for. Loughry has declined to explain where he was going and what he was doing.
“Obviously, when he went to a conference, the conference was dealing with justice and judges. So, I wouldn't say that a trip itself wasn't a business expense, but we raised the question whether the need for a rental car on many of these trips were a legitimate business expense,” Allred said.
In response to our I-Team report and the legislative audit, the Supreme Court has announced it is changing the way its vehicles are checked out. Destinations and reasons for use must now be provided.
We reached out to Loughry to give him a chance to explain his vehicle usage. We received no reply.