Problem In W.Va. Ag Dept. Audit

CHARLESTON (AP) – The speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates says evidence of mismanagement under the state Department of Agriculture’s previous administration has been turned over to a federal prosecutor.

Democrat Tim Miley of Harrison said Thursday that a preliminary legislative audit of the department’s finances before Walt Helmick became commissioner found evidence of “troubling activities and management practices,” including questionable accounting methods, expense reimbursements and loans administered by the agency.

Helmick requested the audit, which Miley said is standard practice when a new agency head takes over. Miley and Senate President Jeff Kessler ordered the auditor to turn the findings over to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Helmick said in a written statement that “we support that decision 100 percent and the Agriculture Department will do whatever is needed to assist in this investigation.”

Legislative Auditor Aaron Allred said Helmick requested the audit on his first day on the job last January, but he declined further comment.

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

Gus Douglass was Helmick’s predecessor. Except for a break following a failed run for governor in 1984, Douglass had been the state’s agriculture commissioner since 1964 until he decided not to run for re-election in 2012.

Douglass did not return a telephone message left at his home Thursday.