Former House of Delegates Education Committee Chairman Jerry Mezzatesta has been indicted on a charge that he lied in an affidavit he gave to the state Ethics Commission amid an investigation.
A special grand jury in Hampshire County indicted Mezzatesta on a misdemeanor false swearing charge. The indictment alleges that Mezzatesta "knowingly and intentionally" lied under oath when he told the ethics agency he never solicited grants for Hampshire County schools, where he works as a board office administrator.
"With all the fervor surrounding this, we took it to a grand jury so the citizens of Hampshire County could decide Mr. Mezzatesta's fate," said Sgt. S.D. Reckart with the West Virginia State Police in Romney.
Mezzatesta's arraignment has been set for May 16 in Hampshire County Circuit Court.
A false swearing charge carries a maximum fine of $1,000 and a year in jail. The penalty also includes a lifelong ban on "holding any office of honor, trust or profit" in West Virginia.
"It's a misdemeanor," said Mezzatesta's attorney, Ben Bailey. "It sounds like much ado about not a lot."
Last year, Mezzatesta was convicted of destroying and altering computer records at the State Capitol. Mezzatesta's wife admitted that she dictated a phony letter that her husband gave to the Ethics Commission to ward off allegations that he lied to the agency. Mezzatesta was removed as House of Delegates Education Committee chairman and later lost re-election to a Republican newcomer.
Hampshire County school board members are expected to decide Friday morning whether to fire Mezzatesta from his $60,000-a-year job as "community specialist."
Mezzatesta's critics said the indictment, which was released by court officials on Wednesday, should provide Hampshire board members with another reason to dismiss Mezzatesta.
"For whatever reason, he doesn't want to admit any wrongdoing," said Candy Canan, vice president of the Hampshire County Education Association. "He has to be held fully accountable for everything he's done. This needs closure, but not until Jerry Mezzatesta has felt the full effects of the law."
Last spring, the state GOP and a state government watchdog group filed an ethics complaint against Mezzatesta, alleging that he improperly used his influence to solicit state Department of Education grants.
In 1999, Mezzatesta promised the Ethics Commission he would not use his legislative job to request state education grants for Hampshire schools.