CHARLESTON W.Va. -- State Emergency Services communications director Joe Gonzalez, subject of a recent legislative audit that found that he and Homeland Security Director Jimmy Gianato flouted state purchasing laws in awarding $38 million of contracts for communications towers, also evidently spends a lot of time traveling on the state dime.
Records with the state auditor's office show that since 2011, Gonzalez has turned in 97 expense reports for travel totaling more than $20,000.
Distances range from a trip to Las Vegas March 11-15 for the International Wireless Communications Expo -- total cost of $3,346, including $1,349 registration, $635 airfare, $585 lodging, $425 meals, and $246 for a rental car -- to as close as at least one overnight stay at the Days Hotel in Flatwoods, about 40 miles from Gonzalez's home in Jane Lew (in a deluxe room with jacuzzi tub, according to the billing statement).
In Las Vegas, Gonzalez stayed at the Las Vegas Hotel and Casino.
Oddly, even though Gonzalez works out of Morgantown, he flew out of Yeager Airport for the Las Vegas trip, at roundtrip airfare of $972, with baggage fees of an additional $50, when flights out of Pittsburgh presumably would have been cheaper.
Gonzalez has also billed for frequent overnight stays in Charleston (usually staying at the Hampton Inn Southridge), Beckley (also Hampton Inn), and Martinsburg (at the Comfort Inn).
At one point, Gonzalez was in Charleston from March 20-26, went back home for one night, and returned for an overnight stay on March 28.
All travel costs were paid by the Department of Health and Human Resources, where the former acting secretary was no slacker at billing the state for costs of commuting to Charleston -- until Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin put a stop to it.
Some weeks ago, writing about the sale of Fantasia Broadcasting's radio stations to Spectrum Radio LLC, I referenced Nick Fantasia as one of the early pioneers in broadcasting in the state, and as a former longtime state delegate, which is how most readers in Charleston knew him.
Unfortunately, Fantasia's son, Nick L. Fantasia, said those references re-stirred partisan rhetoric about the deal to sell the four stations being politically motivated. (The state Jobs Investment Trust owns about a 25 percent share of Spectrum Radio.)
The idea that the elder Fantasia exercised any political influence in the deal is, naturally, absurd, considering that he left the Legislature in 1998 and died in 2005.
However, the junior Fantasia said there's even rhetoric out there that sale of the four stations was a Democratic scheme to wrest West Virginia University sports broadcasts away from Republican John Raese's radio empire.
(Heck, Raese had multiple opportunities to retain WVU broadcasts on his radio stations, but allowed his ego and hubris to get the best of him.)