CHARLESTON - A bugging device uncovered in an air duct in the office of the Regional Jail Authority's chief of operations has become the target of an FBI investigation, a key legislator disclosed Friday.
The first inkling of the bizarre episode came when Delegate Dave Perry, D-Fayette, as co-chairman of a legislative interims committee, quizzed acting Regional Jail Authority Director Joe DeLong if he was aware of any inquiry - internal or external - involving his agency. DeLong is a Hancock County native.
This was in the July interims session, about two weeks after the device allegedly turned up in John Lopez' office in Charleston, and DeLong told the Oversight Committee on Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority he had no knowledge of any such investigation.
At that time, Perry made no mention of a bugging device, or of Lopez in particular.
Perry said he learned that Lopez found the device July 12 after spying some residue from a ceiling tile in the chair of his office.
"It was up overhead, and it had both audio and visual, in an air duct," Perry said.
At this stage, Perry said the legislative committee wouldn't pursue the matter but would simply allow an investigation to take its course.
"He (Lopez) turned it over to Charleston Police and they turned it over to the FBI in Huntington," Perry said.
"I understand they have interviewed some people."
Routinely, the FBI never confirms or denies when it is actively investigating anything when media inquiries are made.
"I have not authorized any official investigations or done anything through the RJA's normal policies or procedures of which we were conducting an investigation," DeLong said.
"Beyond that, anything that would be done that I would have knowledge about from a law enforcement arena or from an outside agency or anything of that, I would not be able to comment on. Not only do I have no knowledge, I can guarantee you that there was no official investigation sanctioned by me that follows RJA's policies and procedures for investigations."
DeLong emphasized that if any bugging device was planted, he didn't order it done.
"There was no official investigation or anything ordered or sanctioned by me here at the RJA," he said.
"Anything that was done outside of that or that would involve law enforcement agencies or anything of that nature, if I ever had information on anything like that in my perspective, I wouldn't be able to comment on it."
Lopez declined to discuss the matter, referring a reporter to his attorney, Paul Stroebel, who didn't return calls placed to his law office.
But Perry said he personally viewed an intent to sue document that Stroebel filed with the attorney general's office, and because of the official notification, the office of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is aware of it.
Perry said both DeLong and Lopez have applied to become the agency's full-time director.
In his lengthy tenure with the RJA, he said, Lopez has achieved "an impeccable record" in state government.
"Almost like Watergate," Perry added, characterizing the alleged bugging incident, but again emphasized his committee, when meeting Monday, will not pursue it.