House Education Committee Chairman Jerry Mezzatesta steered a $75,000 state Department of Education grant to eight Hampshire County volunteer fire departments earlier this year, according to records and state officials.
Mezzatesta originally requested the grant for a Hampshire County nonprofit sheltered workshop, which serves some Hampshire special education students.
The money was later promised to the Hampshire County Red Cross affiliate and "Emergency Medical Service Training Facilities" in Romney and Springfield.
But Mezzatesta, with the Hampshire County school superintendent's blessing, ultimately diverted the bulk of the grant money in February to the volunteer fire departments for "homeland security" training.
Mezzatesta personally met with firefighters to announce the grants, said David Pancake, executive director of the Hampshire County Economic Development Authority.
"These fire companies don't have any idea where that money came from, and Jerry tried to explain it to them," Pancake said Tuesday. "As far as they're concerned, it's Budget Digest money that Jerry gets for them every year."
The Hampshire County Fairgrounds and the Capon Bridge Public Library also received some of the grant money.
Department of Education officials acknowledged this week they didn't know where the $75,000 grant wound up.
Mezzatesta, D-Hampshire, also works as a $60,000-a-year "community specialist/grant writer" for the Hampshire school system.
In 1999, Hampshire school officials and Mezzatesta promised the state Ethics Commission that he would not seek grants from state agencies.
"Jerry Mezzatesta clearly and blatantly violated his agreement with the Ethics Commission," said Gary Abernathy, executive director of the state Republican Party, which filed an ethics complaint against Mezzatesta earlier this month. "It begs the question, if you found this happening once, how many other times has money like this apparently been misappropriated that we don't know about?"
Mezzatesta did not return repeated phone calls and e-mail messages this week and last. Hampshire County schools Superintendent David Friend could not be reached for comment Tuesday, despite repeated attempts.
In 1999, Hampshire school officials sent a "resolution and directive" to the state Ethics Commission, stating that Mezzatesta "is not to submit, process, monitor, direct or advance any state grants from any state agency."
In March 2003, Mezzatesta sent a letter to state schools Assistant Superintendent Stan Hopkins, requesting a $75,000 grant for the nonprofit Special Services Sheltered Workshop in Romney.
Mezzatesta sent the letter on legislative letterhead, and asked Hopkins to call him at his school board office in Romney.
Hopkins approved the request the following day.
"I never felt any undue pressure from Jerry," Hopkins said. "I never felt pressure to fund anything in Hampshire County. I always look at these things based on the merits."
The Hampshire school system received the money in July, and a month later sent a $75,000 check to the Hampshire County Development Authority, which distributes state grant money to numerous agencies.
The sheltered workshop never received the money, however, after Mezzatesta notified the agency last fall that the funds were being diverted, according to Margaret Keister, the nonprofit's office manager.