CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Between contaminated water and the ongoing legislative session, the legislative audit revealing financial mismanagement and probable fraudulent activity in the Department of Agriculture under former commissioner Gus Douglass probably didn't get the sort of media coverage it warranted.
Among the issues raised was mismanagement of the Rural Rehabilitation Loan Program, a federally funded revolving loan program, with numerous loans being delinquent or written off, other loans lacking sufficient collateral, and with at least four loan recipients having potential conflicts of interest with the WVDA loan committee and the commissioner.
The audit did not identify recipients by name, so I requested that Agriculture provide a list of all Rural Rehabilitation loans corresponding with the time period of the audit, July 1, 2011 to Dec. 31, 2012.
According to the department disclosure, there are 40 active Rural Rehabilitation loans administered by the WVDA, along with seven additional loans that have been written off as uncollectable, and six loans that were paid off during the time period.
Of the 40 loans, 25 are listed as delinquent. (And, as the audit noted, the department's lack of internal controls includes listing accounts as current even for loan recipients making only partial payments, with payments of as little as $10 on a total payment due of $1,000 making the account appear to be current.)
The first striking thing about the list of loans is how many have little or nothing to do with agriculture.
That includes a $60,745 to Michael and Virginia Jones of Ripley for the License and Title Place, a privately owned vehicle licensing service. That loan is listed as current.
There's also a $22,000 loan to Donald Reid of Ivydale for Plymouth Pewter Works. That loan is delinquent, with a current balance of $18,558.
Charles Shannon of South Charleston received a $100,000 loan in December 2001 for his Sparkle Klean business, a tanker-truck cleaning company. Shannon sold the business to a Tampa, Fla., company in 2012, and the loan is one of six listed as being paid off.
Several loans are for restaurant, catering or food-service businesses.
That includes two loans to Custard Stand Chili in Webster Springs, with a $149,000 loan to ArvardCowger, listed as current, and a $144,669 loan to Angela Cowger, listed as delinquent.
Gary Connell received a $50,000 loan for Jaws BBQ, a catering and sauce bottling business in Buckhannon. That loan is delinquent. Robin Hildebrand received a $75,746 loan for Blue Smoke Salsa and Gift Baskets in Ansted. That account is also delinquent.