Former House of Delegates Education Chairman Jerry Mezzatesta was reprimanded and fined $2,000 Thursday after West Virginia Ethics Commission investigators determined that he improperly solicited grants and gave a fabricated letter to the commission.
Mezzatesta received the ethics agency's maximum penalty.
The commission initially cleared Mezzatesta of wrongdoing last spring, but reopened an investigation after the Gazette published a series of reports about Mezzatesta's grant requests. It was the first time the agency had reopened an inquiry in its 15-year history.
Ethics Commission members said they were pleased to put the Mezzatesta probe behind them.
"It's in the best interest of the state to put this to rest," said Ethics Commission Chairman John Charnock Jr. "It's a big step. We've been subjected to a lot of criticism. Some warranted, some not. But the system works."
The commission and Mezzatesta reached a "conciliation agreement," which permits the target of an ethics complaint to acknowledge that he violated the Ethics Act. By signing the agreement, Mezzatesta waived his right to a public hearing.
Mezzatesta was fined $1,000 each for two ethics violations.
"While I could contest facts ... I have no desire to prolong these proceedings that have had such a heavy effect on my professional and personal life," Mezzatesta said in a statement to the commission.
Investigators determined that Mezzatesta solicited special education grant money from state schools Superintendent David Stewart and former state Special Education Director Dee Braley during a telephone conference call in October 2003.
Four years earlier, the Ethics Commission had warned Mezzatesta that he should not use his powerful legislative position to solicit state grants for Hampshire schools, where he works as a school board administrator. Mezzatesta promised he wouldn't do so when he took the "community specialist" job.
The ethics investigators also found that Mezzatesta directed his lawyer to hand-deliver a letter to the commission, hoping to fend off allegations that he had lied to the agency about his grant work.
The letter was a fake. Mezzatesta's wife, Mary Lou, has admitted to dictating it.
"Jerry Mezzatesta has disgraced the West Virginia House of Delegates," said Tifney Terry, co-director of West Virginia Wants to Know, the group that filed two ethics complaints against Mezzatesta last year. "Mezzatesta is a documented liar, and this confirms it."
In the agreement with the commission, Mezzatesta said, "As a member of the House of Delegates, I am responsible for the actions of my staff and others using the resources of my state office, and I accept the responsibility for the actions of those individuals who submitted the falsified letter to the commission."