CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In the wake of historic state bribery convictions in the 1960s, the Legislature's Commission on Special Investigations was created to dig into suspicions of wrongdoing in state contracts. The CSI, which works quietly out of the spotlight, now should examine ugly accusations involving big-money sports deals at West Virginia University.
Morgantown communications mogul John Raese -- who previously handled WVU's "third-tier" athletic coverage -- has protested for months that some WVU insiders rigged bidding to steer a 12-year new contract worth $110 million to a North Carolina outfit and West Virginia Media Holdings led by Bray Cary.
Raese's complaints caused Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to declare the January contract improper, so WVU scheduled new bids. Now Raese's West Virginia Radio Corporation has filed an aggressive lawsuit accusing the WVU clique, along with the university's fundraising foundation, of outright fraud.
The lengthy suit in Monongalia Circuit Court says:
"Although WVU and its foundation exist for salutory purposes, they have been corrupted by a cadre of self-interested, self-dealing individuals who view WVU and its foundation not as a vehicle for higher education and the betterment of West Virginia and its citizens, but instead as an opportunity for personal profit."
The suit accuses Cary and certain WVU figures of "fraud, collusion and the palpable abuse of discretion." It says they entered "fraudulent schemes" to enrich themselves and West Virginia Media Holdings. Targets of the suit include WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck and Charlestonian Drew Payne, chairman of the WVU Board of Governors and also a West Virginia Media director.
The suit says the WVU Foundation lent $7.7 million to West Virginia Media Holdings in 2001, using the firm's stock as collateral. Cary and other stockholders had served on the foundation's board. Six years later, in 2007, the stock was sold for just $2.7 million, inflicting a "disastrous" loss on the foundation, the suit says.
"The foundation's investment was wholly improper under West Virginia law and its own stated rules because it did not benefit WVU, but instead benefited private individuals who also served on its board," the suit alleges.
It says West Virginia Media used the university foundation's money to buy TV stations "it otherwise could not have afforded."
When the WVU Foundation sold its West Virginia Media shares at a huge loss, they were purchased by Cary, Payne and another investor, "positioning themselves to benefit tremendously if defendant West Virginia Media ever became profitable (by, for example, securing lucrative media rights for WVU athletics)," the suit snidely comments.
Raese's lawsuit contains several other disturbing claims. West Virginians need to know if their university was exploited for private gain. Therefore, the Legislature's sleuthing agency should make an inquiry.