Probe Entire Grant Program

When West Virginia was handed $126 million in federal “stimulus” money a few years ago, state officials began writing a how-to textbook on government waste. West Virginians have known that since last year.

Now we have learned some of the money was spent illegally.

Included in the $787 billion federal “stimulus” program enacted in 2009 was $126 million to extend access to broadband Internet service in West Virginia. Last year, it was revealed about $15 million of that was wasted on expensive computer network routers, some of which haven’t even been taken out of their boxes more than two years after being purchased. The routers were far too elaborate and expensive.

This week, state legislators were told of a new outrage. The Legislative Auditor’s Office reported laws were broken in purchasing new communications towers that were part of the grant program.

More than $10 million of the grant was earmarked to build new microwave radio towers. A Jane Lew company was commissioned to build 17 towers. According to a published report, that authorization came from state homeland security director Jimmy Gianato and emergency communications director Joe Gonzalez.

But state law was broken by not handling the transaction through a state contract. Instead, the federal grant money was funneled through a contract the company had with Lewis County.

When the company submitted a bid for the Lewis County contract in 2009, it listed Gonzalez as a reference. Legislative auditors found he had a “professional relationship” with the firm since 2006.

And, according to the auditors, Gonzalez claimed to them that he did not know the company’s owners until after they submitted that 2009 bid. He “changed his statement” after auditors were told otherwise, according to the report given to legislators.

Some lawmakers already are demanding an investigation of the affair. Obviously, that should proceed – perhaps in tandem with probes by local or federal prosecuting attorneys.

Legislators’ – and perhaps prosecutors’ – inquisitiveness should not stop there, however. West Virginians have been made aware of wastefulness and wrongdoing involving about one-fifth of the $126 million in grant money. Does the scandal go deeper?

Clearly, investigators should look at every aspect of how the federal grant was handled.