A Second West Virginia Justice Faces Federal Charges

A Second West Virginia Justice Faces Federal Charges

Mike Stewart, US Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, announced today that West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Menis Ketchum will plead guilty to federal criminal charges arising out of the investigation into improper spending by the state’s high court. Ketchum will plead guilty “to an information”, which means that he has agreed to waive indictment by a grand jury as a result of a deal brokered with federal prosecutors.

Ketchum, who resigned his seat on the Court effective August 3rd, reportedly shared Justice Allen Loughry’s habit of appropriating state property for his own use. Ketchum is accused of using a state-owned Buick to travel over 400 miles for golf outings- and charging the gas for these trips to the state.  He also purportedly used the state vehicle to travel the hour-long commute from his home to the state capitol- but did not originally report this perk on his taxes, according to the results of a legislative audit. Prior to his resignation, Ketchum was suspended from the bench pending investigation into the inappropriate spending as well as dishonest statements to investigators by members of the court .

Ketchum has been a justice since 2008. While it is assumed an agreement has been reached between Ketchum and prosecutors, it is unknown whether testimony against his disgraced colleague is part of that deal.

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22 thoughts on “A Second West Virginia Justice Faces Federal Charges

  1. For whatever it’s worth, I’m becoming more and more convinced that either power corrupts, or power attracts those who are already corrupt. Around here, where I live, it’s been a depressing six months’ or so of hearing news stories about yet another small-town official either on the take, or who embezzled, or who used their position to pressure someone into a sexual relationship that they might not want.

    It’s really turned me off of taking any position that involves having any kind of power, I’d rather just be a nameless cog in a vast machine where there’s NOT the temptation to go “three for you and one for me”

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  2. It continually amazes me the penny ante amounts these crimes involve. This guy lost what was at least a $100K per annum job over a few hundred bucks. I work a job with ample opportunities for embezzlement, but I’ve always told my boss the only way I’m going to jail for that crime is over Bernie Madoff money.

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    • $136,000, actually. And yes, the monetary amount of the crimes is very small (not including the lavish overspending on their office remodels- you can read all about that at the link about Loughry), but the gall of these people, the highest echelon of the West Virginia populace, to take advantage like that is infuriating- while the rest of the state employees have the fear of God put into them if they would dare to make one photocopy of a personal document on state office equipment.

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      • Always the way. I think I’ve talked before of an administrator who violated an EEOC rule before retiring, and now we all have had to attend several workshops on how not to violate that rule. The offender, because they had retired, had to attend zero.

        The peons often get the undesirable consequences (or outright punishment) for what the upper level folks do.

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    • This, too – a lot of the embezzlement cases around here have meant someone losing a mid-to-high 5-figure salary (plus having jail time, plus a fine) over maybe a few thousand dollars of cash.

      I mean, I get being desperate – I knew someone who embezzled because a family member was in the hospital and she couldn’t pay the bills – but it’s shooting yourself in the foot.

      (The person I knew got caught, but the Powers That Be made a deal with her: if she quit her job there and, when she got another job, worked out a pay-back plan, they would not press charges. It worked out, and it did seem like a fairly humane way of dealing with that situation. This was like 25 years ago….)

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  3. Are we sure that the little guy doesn’t take advantage of the system, though? That doesn’t seem like an obvious assumption. Power may corrupt, and corrupted people may be attracted to power, but maybe not. The same percentage of lower-paid employees as higher-paid may be equally corrupt. I’ve seen some pretty high level corruption in my time, but I’ve also seen a whole lot of petty corruption.

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    • Sure, the little guy does, but the little guy often has more financial incentive, in that they aren’t making a ton to begin with, so penny ante cheats have a larger impact on their lives.

      For a guy like a judge, who already has a large salary, probably quite a few perks of office, and undoubtedly enough political and business connections to make sure he isn’t living paycheck to paycheck, penny ante cheats are more galling.

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    • Yeah, but – it seems different to me if some guy takes home, I don’t know, a ream of printer paper for his kids to use for their homework than someone taking what amounts to public money set aside for public good.

      Not that I’d take that ream of printer paper but it seems much more minor to me than abusing the trust of the entire population of an area. Then again, I’ve been at universities where upper admins had some serious financial fiddles going on and repairs didn’t get made and sometimes staff didn’t get paid….

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      • Many years ago, at Bell Labs, TPTB noticed that as the beginning of the school year approached there was a run on 3-ring binders in the stockroom (colloquially, the “gift shop”). To put a stop to that, the Labs changed to 4-ring binders with a non-standard spacing and special 4-ring notebook paper. The next year there was a run on both binders and paper.

        The upshot was that you had to sign for binders and paper at the counter. All of the pricey electronic bits stayed on the honor system.

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    • FWIW there’s the story in the original Freakonomics, about they guy who went into business supplying office break rooms with bagels and cream cheese. He supplied many office buildings, in different industries, with all different ranks of whatever organization’s office workers. Payment was on the honour system – take a bagel, put a buck in the tin.

      The authors did an analysis of his financial records as a source of data on who steals bagels – whether there are concentrations of bagel thieves in particular industries, departments, etc. The main finding (and the business owner was already well aware of this one) was that it was executives who were the bagel thieves. It was so bad he would have rapidly gone outof business if he only had access to the best-paid and highest ranking employees. He supplied executive floors as loss leaders, because the execs didn’t want their mail clerks and whatnot having access to lunch bagels – but it was the mail clerks who paid scrupulously, wrote and honoured IOUs when they didn’t have money handy, etc.

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  4. Something tells me that the “taking” did not even occur to the judge as being wrong, or even taking. I am not in anyway saying what he did was right, but am actually saying it is even more despicable than purposefully stealing.

    He felt entitled to this.

    Of course, a judge with power and importance is entitled to a little golf! And he has a fuel card and a Buick! Why they are just to be used in the course of his day!

    It really isn’t any different than a DMV worker taking a short nap to make sure he is refreshed enough to make sure he handles the days’ activities correctly. It’s for the people!

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  5. Stunning that he jeapordized his career for the price of a few tanks of gas. But it’s also stunning that a few tanks of gas is what he’s being forced to resign over. Are we sure there isn’t something bigger lying beneath the surface?

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