Auditors also found numerous discrepancies in how Lewis County awarded the 2009 contract to Premier.
Two other companies -- Bossie Electric, of Charleston, and GlenMartin Inc., of Missouri -- bid on the single tower, but the firms' bids were missing from the Lewis County Commission's files in Weston. The commission also didn't have a copy of Premier's bid, which auditors later obtained from the Jane Lew contractor.
The commission never invited Gonzalez to serve on the committee to review bids, but he coordinated the evaluation anyway, according to the audit.
Gonzalez told state auditors the review took "10 to 15 minutes" before the committee selected Premier's $192,318 bid to build a single tower in Roanoke.
Lewis County commissioners and administrators told state auditors that Gonzalez never told them that he had known Premier's owner in a "professional capacity" for years.
In interviews, Gonzalez, who lives in Jane Lew, first told state auditors that he didn't know Premier's owners until after they submitted their bid in 2009. But Gonzalez "changed his statement" after a former state official notified auditors about Gonzalez's previous work with Premier on other tower projects in West Virginia, the audit says.
Gonzalez also told auditors he didn't step aside from the bid reviews in Lewis County because he was unaware Premier had listed him as a reference.
Auditors found that the state's grant application for stimulus funds included "exaggerated" claims.
"The state mischaracterized the Lewis County contract with Premier as 'competitively bid' and 'fulfilling state requirements,'" according to the audit.
The microwave tower project is designed to bolster public safety and make Internet available to homes in rural areas. The improvements were expected to nearly double the network's capacity for voice and data communications. The tower network also will likely link up with a national public safety system called FirstNet.
The Gazette first reported on the towers and Lewis County's contract with Premier in December 2012. Gianato and Gonzalez denied any wrongdoing then. They would not comment Tuesday.
Last year, an engineering company that's designing the towers hired Gianato's son, Adam, to inspect the towers. Gonzalez has acknowledged recommending Adam Gianato for the job.
Adam Gianato now works for Gonzalez as a state employee with the Office of Emergency Medical Services.
The audit recommends that the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety take over the statewide tower network. A group called the Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee now operates the microwave radio towers, while the Department of Health and Human Resources owns and insures the structures.
Auditors also recommended that legislators pass a law that would ban counties, cities and nonprofits from making purchases on the state's behalf.
Jason Pizatella, an aide to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, said the governor plans to push for purchasing reforms during the upcoming legislative session "so this never happens again."
Allred released the tower audit during a legislative interim committee meeting Tuesday.
Last February, the legislative auditor reviewed another part of the state's $126.3 million broadband expansion project.
In a report, auditors revealed that the state wasted at least $7.9 million -- and maybe as much as $15 million -- on oversize Internet routers.
The state installed most of the routers in rural schools and small libraries with only a handful of computer terminals, even though the devices are designed to serve buildings with more than 500 Internet connections.
Reach Eric Eyre at erice...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.