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Plants finances subpoenaed in domestic-battery case

By Kate White, Staff writer
CHIP ELLIS | Gazette
Kanawha County Prosecutor Mark Plants has been charged with misdemeanor domestic battery.

Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Plants must give the West Virginia State Police records of any pay raises, vacation time and sick leave given to a former assistant who is now his wife, according to a subpoena filed Wednesday by a special prosecutor.

Sid Bell, who has been assigned to prosecute Plants on two misdemeanor charges, issued subpoenas for Plants’ office, the financial institutions Plants’ office uses, Kanawha County Clerk Vera McCormick — who keeps financial records for the county, and the city of Charleston and its health benefits administration office.

Plants’ attorney, Jim Cagle, filed a motion late Wednesday to quash the subpoena, arguing that it is “designed either to harass, to threaten, and/or to begin some faux investigation which has nothing to do” with the two charges Plants faces.

Plants is charged with domestic battery of his 11-year-old son and with violating a domestic-violence protective order that prevented him from coming in contact with his ex-wife, Allison Plants, and their two sons.

Plants gave Sarah Foster $15,000 in pay raises during the four years she worked for him. She also had multiple motor-vehicle violations dismissed in Kanawha County Magistrate Court without proof that the violations were corrected. Plants has denied any favoritism for his then-secretary. The Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which oversees attorneys in West Virginia, is investigating.

The subpoena calls for Plants’ office to provide all payroll statements, paycheck stubs and other records showing Sarah Foster’s accrued sick leave, annual leave and vacation benefits while she worked there — as well as copies of all documents, letters and memos, reports to commissioners and the clerk approving or authorizing salary or wage increases or decreases for Sarah Foster.

McCormick’s office was told to provide the same information for all employees in Plants’ office from 2009 through 2013.

Bell also wants McCormick’s office to provide all documents related to expenditures from drug forfeiture accounts and “any other accounts or budget line allocations that were established for the benefit of the prosecutor’s office” between 2009 and 2013.

Cagle’s motion states that Bell’s subpoena against Plants’ office asks for information that isn’t relevant to the charges Plants faces. Also, Cagle argues, Bell has been assigned to prosecute Plants only on those charges.

“More particularly, counsel asserts that the requested information is immaterial and in no way admissible as evidence in either case,” Cagle’s motion states.

Bell told the Gazette on Wednesday, though, that the information could speak to Plants’ credibility or the credibility of witnesses he plans to call during trial.

Allison Plants filed for divorce from Mark Plants in June 2012. Sarah Foster left the prosecutor’s office in July 2013, and filed for divorce from her first husband, Charleston Police Detective Andy Foster, in October 2013. Mark Plants and Sarah Foster married in December 2013.

A subpoena issued to the city of Charleston and its health benefits administrator asks for “any and all payments made under the policy to medical providers based on claims made by or on behalf of Andy Foster, Sarah Foster and/or Ella Foster” in 2012 and 2013. Ella Foster is the daughter of Sarah Foster, now known as Sarah Plants.

Bell also wants records of any expenses the city of Charleston incurred providing health insurance to Andy Foster, Sarah Foster and Ella Foster.

“Medical bills, medication costs, or hospital charges associated with the pregnancy of the said Sarah Foster and the birth of the said Ella Foster in 2012 and 2013 and which costs or charges were paid by Charleston or its insurance company,” the subpoena states.

Asked about the subpoena Wednesday, Charleston Mayor Danny Jones said his office has “determined that the city didn’t pay for Mark Plants’ child.”

“We checked it out, and we found out that Andy didn’t have insurance,” the mayor said. “There may have been one doctor bill, and we will get the money back for that.”

Jones said he investigated the issue after receiving multiple phone calls with questions about the Fosters’ insurance.

“There was a crossover between the families when the baby was born and a question about who had the insurance and who was married to who,” Jones said.

Bell also wants images of the front and back of all checks, suspicious-activity reports, transaction reports, monthly statements and deposit receipts and entries associated with any and all checking accounts and all accounts opened, held, controlled or owned by Sarah Foster.

Sun Trust Bank is to provide the same information, plus any loans, mortgages or other transactions related to any and all accounts opened, held, controlled or owned by Mark Plants between 2009 and 2014.

All of the information should be given to or allowed to be inspected by State Police Sgt. Mike Parde or Trooper Leslie Boytek, according to the subpoenas. Bell said Wednesday that Parde and Boytek were assigned to assist him in the Plants prosecution.

Bell, a former longtime McDowell County prosecuting attorney, was appointed by Mercer County Circuit Judge Derek Swope to prosecute Plants on both charges. The state Supreme Court appointed Swope after the State Police announced that it was investigating Plants over allegations of child abuse. Once misdemeanor charges were filed against Plants, Mercer Magistrate Mike Flanigan was appointed. A status hearing in the cases is set for May 21.

The Supreme Court hasn’t decided if Plants should be suspended while disciplinary proceedings against him are completed with the state Lawyer Disciplinary Board.

The state’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel asked for his immediate suspension after Plants filed a motion asking that the domestic battery charge against him be dismissed. The ODC’s petition said Plants’ belief that he hasn’t committed a crime creates a conflict of interest when it comes to his office prosecuting similar allegations.

The city of Charleston filed its own petition, asking that Plants’ office be removed from prosecuting cases involving cases of domestic battery between parents and their minor children.

Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom subsequently barred Plants’ office from cases involving child abuse and neglect, violent crimes against children by their parents and criminal violations of protective orders. The judge appointed former longtime assistant prosecutor Don Morris to handle those cases, along with three assistants. Those assistants will report to Morris, not Plants.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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