Legislative auditors found department employees were afraid to question expenses by Douglass and upper management, fearing they would lose their jobs.
• Former general counsel Arden Curry was improperly classified as a full-time commission employee for 21 years, even though he worked only 200 to 250 hours per year on department business. He also maintained a private law practice in Charleston.
Because of the improper classification, the department improperly paid Curry a salary, as well as the employer share of Social Security, Medicare taxes, retirement contribution and PEIA premiums. Between July 1, 2011, and Dec. 31, 2012, those payments totaled $64,960, the audit found.
• Extravagant spending for use of the state plane. The audit indicates the department paid $3,150 to fly Douglass from Yeager Airport to Ravenswood, for a ceremony dedicating a gazebo in his name, and then on to Ocean Isle, N.C., where he was vacationing at the time.
The audit notes that the day before, the department had paid $94 for a commercial flight to fly Douglass from Ocean Isle to Charleston, and it indicates he could have flown back on a commercial flight.
Auditors consider the $3,150 expense to be extravagant because it was not a necessary business expense for the department, and notes that state ethics law prohibits use of public office for private gain.
• Exaggerated mileage for travel reimbursements. The audit found that Agriculture employees had exaggerated mileage reports for official travel over a period of time. The exaggerated reporting totaled roughly 8,000 miles, or $4,000 in excessive mileage reimbursements.
The exaggerated mileage on various trips ranged from 11 miles to a maximum of 188 miles, the audit found.
• Improper travel reimbursements. Douglass, who lives in Mason County, was reimbursed for 21 overnight hotel stays in Charleston between February 2008 and February 2013, at a cost of $1,544 for lodging and $425 for meals.
The audit found that since the commissioner's headquarters is in Guthrie, he did not qualify for overnight stays in Charleston under state government travel policies.
The audit makes a number of recommendations, including having the Legislature either discontinue the Rural Rehabilitation Loan Program, or transfer control of the program to the state treasurer's office.
Current Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick, who requested that the legislative auditor's office review the loan program, said in a response that he concurs with the findings of the audit, and will comply with all recommendations.
A phone message left at Douglass' home was not immediately returned Monday.
Reach Phil Kabler at ph...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.