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Former West Virginia Supreme Court justice Ketchum pleads guilty to wire fraud

An artist sketch shows former West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Menis Ketchum and his lawyer Thursday in federal court. (Jeff Pierson)

Menis Ketchum, the former West Virginia Supreme Court justice who retired amid an investigation of the court, pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court to one count of wire fraud.

Ketchum’s plea was in U.S. District Court in Charleston before Judge John Copenhaver. The penalty when he is sentenced Dec. 6 is up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and a term of supervised release of up to three years.

“Justice Ketchum did the right thing for doing the wrong thing,” U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart said in a news release. “There is no such thing as a small felony. There is no such thing as a little bit of public corruption. I want to praise the exemplary work of the FBI, the West Virginia Legislature’s Commission on Special Investigations, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations, and prosecutors Anna Forbes and Phil Wright.”

Stuart announced July 31 that Ketchum had agreed in an information to plead guilty to one count of wire fraud for personal use of a state vehicle and fuel card.

Ketchum, 75, retired from the court at the end of the business day July 27.

The former justice’s plea comes as the Supreme Court has been rocked with controversy. On Aug. 13 and Aug. 14, the West Virginia House of Delegates passed seven articles of impeachment against Justice Allen Loughry, four against former justice Robin Davis, three against Justice Margaret Workman and one against Justice Elizabeth Walker. Davis has since announced she has retired. The West Virginia Senate is conducting pretrial hearings Sept. 11.

Lawmakers did not consider possible impeachment articles against Ketchum since he retired from the court.

Loughry, who is suspended from the court, faces 25 federal charges that accuse him of mail and wire fraud, witness tampering and making false statements to the FBI.

In Ketchum’s case, the information he agreed to plead guilty to deals with his use of a state-owned vehicle and state-issued fuel card for personal use. Under an information, a defendant agrees to voluntarily plead guilty and waives the right to an indictment.

The information said Ketchum began using a state-owned vehicle, a 2007 Buick Lucerne, in January 2012 for the purposes of commuting back and forth from his Huntington residence to his chambers at the state Capitol.

Ketchum’s use of the vehicle was supposed to be limited to exclusively business-related purposes and not for personal travel. He also charged the state the fuel costs for his commuting by using a state-issued fuel credit card.

Between Aug. 6, 2014, and Aug. 9, 2014, Ketchum traveled from his Huntington home to a private golf club in western Virginia, driving the state vehicle and charging the fuel costs of the trip to the state-issued fuel card, the information said. The round-trip mileage for the golf outings was nearly 400 miles and cost taxpayers about $220 per trip.

Ketchum was elected to a full 12-year term on the Supreme Court on Nov. 4, 2008. He served as chief justice in 2012 and 2016, according to biographical information on the court’s website.

A native of Huntington, he was raised in Wayne County and received his law degree from the West Virginia University College of Law.

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