School Building chief’s state car still missing
Nearly two months after state School Building Authority Executive Director Mark Manchin reported that his state-owned vehicle was stolen from the parking garage at the Charleston Marriott Town Center, police continue to investigate and the vehicle remains missing.
Surveillance video does not show Manchin’s state vehicle ever entering or leaving the parking garage on April 27, the Sunday night that Manchin reported the theft, according to a Charleston police incident report released Monday.
Also, a Charleston patrol officer said Manchin incorrectly reported the make of the car and the vehicle’s license number — an allegation that Manchin disputes.
“I drove it to the Marriott, parked it in the parking garage, came back, and it was gone,” Manchin said Monday. “It’s that simple. It’s nothing nefarious.”
Manchin told police he left his state-assigned vehicle unlocked and placed the keys under the front seat.
“They’re the big, bulky type of keys, so I didn’t want to put them in my pocket,” Manchin recalled Monday. “I just put them under the seat, which I’ve done a thousand times.
“I thought it was safe in the Marriott parking garage. I would have never dreamt they would have taken it out of the Marriott parking garage.”
Manchin said he parked his car at the Marriott before having dinner at a nearby restaurant, The Chop House, with several members of the state School Building Authority. The next morning, the board met formally and distributed state grant funds for school construction projects in West Virginia.
“I always meet with the authority members the evening before for a little dinner,” Manchin said Monday in a telephone interview while attending a conference in Georgia.
After dinner at The Chop House on April 27, Manchin said he returned to the parking garage, couldn’t find his state car, and reported the four-door sedan missing to Marriott security.
Before contacting police, Manchin and a Marriott loss-prevention officer reviewed surveillance video but found no footage of the car exiting the parking garage.
“We looked at the film,” Manchin said. “It never came out of the parking garage. At least we never saw it.”
Manchin said the surveillance video does show him walking out of the Marriott garage before heading to The Chop House. He said the footage also showed a possible glimpse of his state car entering the parking garage.
“You can see the wheels go by,” Manchin said. “They don’t have a camera where the cars come into the parking garage. They only have a camera on where the cars come out of the parking garage.”
Later that night, Manchin called Charleston police to report the theft. He told Patrol Officer J.W. Butts the stolen state vehicle was a silver-colored Ford Taurus, according to the incident report.
Butts, however, discovered the missing vehicle was a Ford Fusion, the report states.
“I attempted to run the registration provided by Mr. Manchin only to find out that was not the registration for the vehicle,” Butts wrote in his report.
Butts said Manchin also gave him an incorrect license plate number — “ST-2277,” according to the report. The number on the green state-issued license plate “was actually ST-2257,” Butts wrote.
The officer decided not to report the vehicle as stolen to the National Crime Information Database “due to the uncertainty and discrepancies in the registration and description of the vehicle provided by [Manchin],” according to the report.
On Monday, Manchin acknowledged he got the vehicle’s model name wrong, but he said he correctly reported the car’s license number.
The state Fleet Management Office confirmed that Manchin was assigned a Ford Fusion with license number ST-2277. The state Board of Risk and Insurance Management also recently paid out $13,300 on an insurance claim on a stolen vehicle with that tag number.
The state-owned vehicle with license number ST-2257 — also a Ford Fusion — is assigned to a supervisor at the state Department of Health and Human Resources in Charleston.
A week after Butts filed his report, Charleston Police Detective James Duncan spoke with Manchin on the telephone.
“During my conversation with Manchin, I learned he had provided the wrong registration number for the 2012 Ford Fusion,” Duncan wrote in a supplementary report. “Mr. Manchin indicated that the registration is ST-2277, not 2257 as originally reported.”
During the investigation, Butts looked into whether someone could have driven Manchin’s state vehicle to the adjacent Charleston Town Center parking garage and exited there. Butts ruled out that possibility because a heavy chain separates the two garages.
“I … noticed the chain was not tampered with and was still secured,” Butts wrote in his report.
The city released Butts’ report Monday morning, after The Charleston Gazette filed a request for the document under the state Freedom of Information Act.
The city initially blacked-out two paragraphs of the incident report, saying the matter was still being investigated.
Later Monday, Mayor Danny Jones ordered the report be released in its entirety. The redacted sections documented Butts’ review of the Marriott surveillance video and his finding that the footage didn’t capture Manchin’s state-owned car leaving the parking garage.
Earlier this year, Manchin announced he’s leaving his post at the School Building Authority to become superintendent of Harrison County Schools. He starts his new job July 1.
Manchin, a cousin of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, said he always took good care of his state-owned car, sometimes even hand-washing the vehicle outside the School Building Authority office on weekends.
“I cleaned it out real well and made it look real sweet,” he said.
Manchin said the state reimbursed him for the use of a rental car after the theft in late April. He said he feels “terrible” the car was stolen.
“Somebody took it out of the Marriott parking garage,” Manchin said. “I don’t know who. I don’t know how. I don’t know where. It was stolen.”
Reach Eric Eyre at email@example.com or 304-348-4869.