2nd West Virginia Supreme Court justice faces fraud charge
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A second West Virginia Supreme Court justice is facing federal felony charges related to the personal use of state-owned vehicles and fuel cards.
U.S Attorney Mike Stuart said Tuesday that Menis Ketchum has agreed to plead guilty to one count of wire fraud. Ketchum now faces a plea hearing and up to 20 years in prison.
Ketchum abruptly announced in a handwritten letter on July 11 that he would step down effective July 27, two years before the end of his 12-year term. The letter gave no reason for his resignation.
Another justice, Allen Loughry, pleaded not guilty in federal court in June to multiple counts involving alleged fraud. He was suspended over similar allegations that he repeatedly lied about using his office for personal gain.
“The people of West Virginia work too hard and too long to tolerate misconduct that strikes at the heart of the public’s trust by their elected officials,” Stuart said at a news conference. “The West Virginia Supreme Court should be and must be above reproach, above even the slightest appearance of impropriety. We’re one step closer to ending the crisis of this court.”
Ketchum, 75, was charged in a federal information document, which signals a defendant is cooperating. Stuart declined comment when asked whether Ketchum’s resignation was related to his plea agreement.
The charge is related to a 2014 trip in which Ketchum used a state-owned car to drive from his home in Huntington to a private golf club near Bristol, Virginia, using a state credit card to refuel.
Stuart said that even though Ketchum faces one count, the federal information “sets forth a pattern of wrongdoing.” Court documents show Ketchum traveled to the golf club from 2011 through 2014.
A legislative audit in April found Ketchum ignored mandatory reporting guidelines for the personal use of state-owned vehicles. It said the use of state-owned vehicles and mileage reimbursements should have been reported as taxable fringe benefits on Ketchum’s federal W-2 forms but were not.
The audit report said Ketchum repaid the state $1,664 for incorrect travel reimbursements. In a statement attached to the report, Ketchum said he had planned to pay any taxes due for use of the state car.
Loughry was indicted in June on federal charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, lying to federal law enforcement, witness tampering and obstruction of justice.
Loughry is accused of making personal use of a state vehicle and credit card, and trying to influence an employee’s testimony and the federal investigation. He’s also accused of “creating a false narrative” about an antique desk and leather couch that he had transferred from the Supreme Court offices to his home, and that he repeated the false narrative to an FBI special agent during a March interview.
Loughry’s trial is set for Oct. 2. A legislative committee is considering whether to recommend impeachment proceedings against him. Loughry has not responded to calls by Gov. Jim Justice and legislative leaders to resign.
Ketchum’s retirement and Loughry’s suspension leave three active justices: Chief Justice Margaret Workman and Justices Robin Davis and Beth Walker. The court is in recess until its fall term starts in early September.
A special election will be held in November to fill the remainder of Ketchum’s term.