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Jail officials say they don't know about surveillance investigation

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Two leaders of the state's jail system told legislators Monday they don't know anything about any investigations into allegations that a surveillance device was found in the office of John Lopez, the state Regional Jail Authority's former chief of operations.

Neither Joe Thornton, secretary of the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, nor Joe DeLong, executive director of the Regional Jail Authority, could explain emails exchanged by Lopez and FBI special agent Joe Ciccarelli regarding Lopez's inclusion in the federal Victim Notification System, which allows crime victims to track the status of any investigation or prosecution.

Lopez has said that he found a video recording device in the ceiling of his Virginia Street office in August.

In the e-mails, dated Aug. 15 and provided by committee co-chairman Delegate Dave Perry, D-Fayette, Ciccarelli advises Lopez, "Department of Justice guidelines will only allow me to discuss with you very limited information as to case status. However, I should be able to give you a more definitive status shortly."

DeLong, who was acting executive director of the Regional Jail Authority at the time, said the first knowledge he had of the alleged device was when he read about it in the papers. Lopez reportedly turned the device over to the FBI.

"It was not brought to my attention to be addressed," DeLong told legislators. "My knowledge of a device being removed from that office came from the media."

Sen. Bill Laird, D-Fayette, questioned why the authority did not conduct an internal investigation of the matter.

"If something shows up in my office, I'd want to know where it came from and who put it there," said Laird, a former Fayette County sheriff.

Earlier Monday, DeLong told legislators he was not compelled to act on "rumors, innuendo, and what's been in the press." 

Likewise, Thornton said he was not present "if and when" the surveillance device was removed from Lopez's office.

As for any investigation, Thornton said, "I am not in any discussions with anyone currently, externally or internally."

DeLong was named executive director of the Regional Jail Authority in August. Lopez was also a finalist for the job.

Also Monday, Laird questioned DeLong's decision to award a $36,890 contract to design scheduling software for the jail authority to West Virginia University professor Jack Fuller, without putting the contract out to bid.

Fuller is a professor at the College of Business and Economics, and teaches classes in the MBA program in which DeLong is enrolled.

DeLong noted that the jail authority is exempt from state purchasing regulations. He said the software Fuller designed will save the state millions of dollars by maximizing efficiencies in staffing at the state's 10 regional jails.

"This is a $36,000 investment that has the potential of saving the taxpaying citizens of West Virginia about $7 million a year in perpetuity," DeLong said.

With Fuller's software, regional jail administrators will input minimum staffing requirements for each week, broken down into two-hour segments. The software then determines the most efficient scheduling of officers, eliminating overlap of work-hours and the need to build in mandatory overtime for employees.

DeLong said Fuller had proposed making the software development a class project for a group of MBA students, and then allowing the authority to make a $5,000 to $7,500 donation to the college in exchange for the finished product. However, DeLong said that after consultations with staff attorneys and attorneys with the Ethics Commission, it was determined there is no provision in state law for such a transaction.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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