Last spring, House Education Chairman Jerry Mezzatesta told the state Ethics Commission he never solicited grant money for Hampshire County Schools, where he works as a board office administrator.
He gave his word, and submitted a sworn statement.
West Virginia schools Superintendent David Stewart also provided an affidavit, at Mezzatesta's request. In it, Stewart said Mezzatesta never solicited a state Department of Education grant from him "personally."
But documents obtained this week by The Charleston Gazette show that Mezzatesta solicited a $100,000 grant directly from Stewart last year.
Mezzatesta also requested, through a top Department of Education administrator, that a grant to Hampshire schools be continued in 2002.
The documents contradict Mezzatesta's and Stewart's previous sworn statements, which prompted the Ethics Commission to dismiss complaints and drop an investigation against Mezzatesta last month.
In a Jan. 2, 2003, letter to Mezzatesta, Stewart wrote, "This is to confirm our telephone conversation of this morning concerning your request for additional funding for Hampshire County Schools to offset some of the costs for providing educational services to the students assigned to the Potomac Center."
Stewart said Wednesday that he did not recall the conversation and follow-up letter when he gave his sworn statement to the Ethics Commission. He confirmed that Mezzatesta's funding request was a $100,000 grant.
"He talked to me about money," Stewart acknowledged after reviewing the letter Wednesday. "Until this moment, I didn't recall this. But I wrote it. That's what it says."
Asked whether Mezzatesta solicited grants from the Department of Education, Stewart said: "He's asking for money. That's how it appears from these letters."
In 1999, Mezzatesta promised the Ethics Commission that he would not solicit grants from "any state agency" after being hired as a community specialist/grant writer for Hampshire schools.
Mezzatesta, D-Hampshire, did not return telephone messages Wednesday. He repeatedly has declined to answer questions about grants and the Ethics Commission investigation.
'We found they they had plenty of money'
In January 2003, Mezzatesta requested $100,000 in special education funds from the Department of Education, according to Stewart's letter.
Mezzatesta said the money was needed to help pay for costs related to teaching Hampshire County special education students who live at the Potomac Center, which houses children with behavior problems and mental illnesses, according to the letter.
But Hampshire County school officials never intended to use the money for the special education students, records show. Instead, they planned to pump the money into a new Romney Middle School, according to a letter sent by Hampshire County's superintendent to the state School Building Authority last year.
The county was having budget problems, and Hampshire school officials were having a difficult time coming up with $1 million in matching money they had promised to the School Building Authority for the new middle school.
Dee Braley, executive director of the Department of Education's Office of Special Education, said she rejected requests from Stewart and department Finance Director Joe Panetta to release the $100,000 in special education funds. Panetta approached her twice, she said.
"Joe said, 'Jerry needs $100,000 for Hampshire County.' He indicated that Dr. Stewart had promised it to him," Braley recalled this week. "I said, 'I don't have the money.' He said, 'Are you sure?' I said, 'I'm sure.'
"Five days later, he came back. He said, 'Dr. Stewart wants to meet with you.' I said, 'What's going on?' Joe said, 'They're having difficulty making the local match.'"
Panetta said Wednesday he could not recall whether he mentioned Mezzatesta's name when he discussed the $100,000 grant with Braley.
"I would have thought I said, 'Mr. Friend [Hampshire County's school superintendent],'" Panetta said. "I was hoping she had the money in her account. I didn't want them to lose the School Building Authority grant."
In his letter to Mezzatesta, Stewart said, "the Department of Education should be able to provide $100,000 in additional funding."