But Stewart told Mezzatesta he would have to wait until Braley studied whether Hampshire County schools needed an extra $100,000 a year for the Potomac Center children.
Braley later determined that Hampshire schools had enough money. The school system already was receiving $800,000 a year in the state Budget Digest, which Mezzatesta secured, to educate about two-dozen Potomac Center children who attended Hampshire schools. That amounts to about $40,000 per student.
"Money was not the issue," Braley said. "We found they had plenty of money. That's why I turned them down."
Braley said she talked with Panetta about Mezzatesta's request weeks later.
"I asked, 'Did you get the money for Mezzatesta?' He said, 'Oh yeah,'" Braley recalled.
Records show that Hampshire schools received a $100,000 Department of Education grant for "strategic staff development" in March 2003. But it is unclear whether that money went to build the middle school.
Stewart said the money was supposed to be used to train Hampshire County school Finance Department employees.
'I have never solicited any grants for ... Hampshire ... '
Six months earlier, Mezzatesta fired off a separate letter to Braley, requesting that she continue a $120,000-a-year grant to Hampshire County schools.
"I understand that with these additional funds being allocated you were not going to supply additional funds as you have in the past," Mezzatesta wrote in a May 29, 2002, letter to Braley. "However, at this time I would ask for you to reconsider that decision."
Braley denied Mezzatesta's request to renew the grant.
In a sworn statement to the Ethics Commission in April, Mezzatesta stated, "I have never solicited any grants for the Hampshire County board."
Hampshire County schools Superintendent David Friend also provided an affidavit that says, "Jerry Mezzatesta has never solicited any grants for the Hampshire County Board of Education."
A Jan. 3, 2003, letter that Friend sent to the School Building Authority seems to contradict his statement to the Ethics Commission.
Friend's letter states, "Mr. Panetta has found approximately another half a million dollars that Delegate Mezzatesta brought back to the county in the Budget Digest and other grant monies."
Friend did not return phone messages Wednesday. He has declined the speak to the Gazette and has accused the newspaper of publishing "false and untrue" stories "solely to engage in a character assassination of Jerry Mezzatesta."
'Jerry Mezzatesta is a documented liar'
In April, the state Republican Party and former Kanawha County school board candidate Tifney Terry filed ethics complaints against Mezzatesta, alleging that he improperly used his influence as a legislator to secure state Department of Education grants for Hampshire County schools.
Terry and Wanda Carney, who head a state government watchdog group called West Virginia Wants to Know, plan to ask the Ethics Commission to reopen its investigation.
"The letter Stewart wrote invalidates the affidavits," Carney said. "The affidavits were false. Here, we have proof that Jerry Mezzatesta is a documented liar."
In March 2003, Mezzatesta solicited a $75,000 grant from the Department of Education, according to a letter he sent to a top department administrator. The bulk of the money eventually was diverted to volunteer fire departments in Hampshire County.
Ethics Commission officials said Mezzatesta did not violate ethics law because the money never went to his employer, Hampshire schools.
The Ethics Commission meets today at 10 a.m., at 1207 Quarrier St., Charleston.