But now there was the letter from Stewart, and Mezzatesta told Swagger that July 1 morning to find a letter he allegedly sent in response the previous year. Mezzatesta's letter supposedly said that Stewart misunderstood him, that he wasn't requesting money.
Howard arrived at the House Education Committee office at 8:30 a.m. No one else was working in the office that day. The phone was ringing. It was Mezzatesta. Did she find the letter?
Howard searched through file cabinets. She logged onto office computers.
Mezzatesta called again. He told her to look in Swagger's filing cabinet. He told her to look in House Education Vice Chairman Larry Williams' files.
Mezzatesta became more frantic with each call, Howard recalled. At one point, Howard called Mezzatesta's wife and told her to ask Mezzatesta to leave her alone.
Mary Lou Mezzatesta was on the speaker phone.
"You know what we're going to have to do," Mary Lou Mezzatesta told Howard, according to Howard's statement. "I have never seen Jerry this mad. We are going to have to type the letter. Can you handle this?"
Howard told Mary Lou Mezzatesta that she could. Mary Lou Mezzatesta dictated the letter. Howard typed. She read the letter back to Mary Lou. She signed off the letter with "Respectfully, Jerry L. Mezzatesta."
Moments later, Jerry Mezzatesta was calling Howard again. He told Howard to deliver the letter to House of Delegates lawyer Richard Lindroth, who represented Mezzatesta during the Ethics Commission investigation.
Mezzatesta also ordered Howard to put a copy in Williams' file. At no time did Mezzatesta ask her where she had found the letter.
"That led me to perceive he knew the letter had been re-created," Howard said in her affidavit.
'It was vintage Mezzatesta'
At 10:15 that same morning, Mezzatesta was on talk radio, blasting the media and denying he had ever asked for state education grant money.
Mezzatesta had agreed to the interview a week earlier. He spoke on the phone from his Hampshire school board office, where he works as a "community specialist."
MetroNews Talkline host Hoppy Kercheval peppered Mezzatesta with questions about Stewart's January 2003 letter. He read an excerpt from Stewart's letter on the air.
"Would you like to have the letter we sent back?" Mezzatesta responded. "Nobody's asked me this, Hoppy. We sent a letter back three days later to him, that, Dr. Stewart, evidently you misunderstood.
"But I wasn't even going to tell you that," Mezzatesta went on. "I was going to wait till later in the show. But that wouldn't make good press. That would be page six."
After a short commercial break, Mezzatesta started talking about what he was doing in his office during the talk radio interview.
"Guess what I'm doing right now?" he said. "Well, I'll tell you that while I've been talking to you, I've been sitting here writing two letters, and guess what? I've been doing my part-time job as a legislator, talking to you and I've been sitting here writing two letters I have to get out this afternoon. I can do two jobs at the same time. And I had my wife on my cell phone in between, checking what was going on at the House of Delegates."
Mezzatesta concluded the interview, saying, "I haven't done anything wrong."
"He was anxious to come on the program and talk," Kercheval recalled last week. "It was vintage Mezzatesta. Jerry was a guy quick with a quote and he wasn't going to back down from a fight or argument."
Later that day, Mezzatesta called Swagger again. This time, he told her to put another copy of the letter in House Education Committee staff member David Mohr's file cabinet. Howard found that directive "strange" since Mezzatesta's correspondence was never filed with Mohr.
Several days later, Mary Lou Mezzatesta called Swagger and told her to remove the letter from Mohr's file cabinet.
Kiss shocked by secretary's statement
The calls kept coming, and the lying started.
The Sunday Gazette-Mail and House Speaker Kiss were raising questions about the Jan. 13, 2003, letter Lindroth had hand-delivered to Kiss and the Ethics Commission. For one thing, it was on stationery with letterhead that didn't exist at the time it was supposedly written. The letter also had typographical errors. And it was signed, "Respectfully."
Mezzatesta nearly always signed off his correspondence with "Sincerely."
Kiss called Swagger and Howard to his office. He showed them the letter. They lied, told him it was genuine. They both worried that Mezzatesta would fire them. At least once, the Mezzatestas accompanied them when they spoke to Kiss.
On Aug. 9, Howard decided to tell Kiss the truth. She went to his law office in Charleston to meet him in private.
"Speaker Kiss appeared as though he could have fallen out of his chair," Howard told investigators.
A week later, Kiss removed Mezzatesta as House Education chairman. And Howard and Swagger were talking with investigators, telling them everything.