CHARLESTON, W.Va. --Legislative leaders have turned over evidence of "very troubling activities and management practices" under the West Virginia Department of Agriculture's previous administration to the U.S. Attorney's Office, the House speaker's office announced Thursday.
In a statement, Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, announced that a preliminary legislative audit of finances within the department under then-Commissioner Gus Douglass found evidence of suspicious activity.
"Upon being elected to the office of Agriculture Commissioner, Walt Helmick requested the legislative auditor to perform an audit of the department," Miley stated. "That is a pretty standard request, as it gives a newly elected office holder a perspective from which to begin operating and managing the agency.
"To date, the audit has revealed very troubling activities and management practices by the Agriculture Department's previous administration, including questionable accounting methods, expense reimbursements and loans administered by the agency," Miley stated.
Miley said that once the preliminary audit was brought to the attention of himself and Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, "We ordered our legislative auditor to immediately turn the information over to the U.S. Attorney's office. Commissioner Helmick supported our decision 100 percent."
Helmick was traveling in the Eastern Panhandle Thursday, but issued a statement saying the department will do whatever is needed to assist in the investigation.
"Upon being sworn into office as Agriculture commissioner last January, one of my first official acts was to request an audit of the agency," Helmick said. "We have recently been made aware that some accounting and management practices from the previous administration have been called into question and that Senate President Jeff Kessler and House Speaker Tim Miley have requested that those findings be turned over to the U.S. Attorney."
Department spokesman Butch Antolini said the agency has not been apprised of what issues were raised in the legislative audit.