Jury starts deliberating in West Virginia justice's trial
By JOHN RABY, Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A suspended West Virginia Supreme Court justice who says trips he took using a court-issued vehicle were justified actually “stole from the state,” a federal prosecutor said in closing arguments Wednesday at the justice’s criminal trial.
Federal jurors began deliberations Wednesday afternoon before heading home for the day in the trial of Justice Allen Loughry, who’s accused of driving state cars and buying gasoline with a state-owned credit card for his own benefit. Most of the 22 counts are for wire fraud. The others include mail fraud, making false statements and witness tampering.
Loughry “was elected to be a public servant,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg McVey told jurors during closing arguments. “He did not do that. Instead, he wanted to become its master. He stole from the state. And when things got hot, he flat-out lied.”
McVey detailed separate trips Loughry took during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday periods along with book signings at The Greenbrier resort. McVey noted some gas receipts show Loughry filling up the car’s gas tank on separate occasions only a few hours apart at the end of trips. McVey questioned what car the last fill-up went into.
Loughry’s attorney, John Carr, said prosecutors did not prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.
The state House of Delegates impeached Loughry and three other justices in August over questions involving lavish office renovations that evolved into accusations of corruption, incompetence and neglect of duty.
Loughry wrote a 2006 book while he was a Supreme Court law clerk about the history of political corruption in the state. During a rebuttal Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Wright said Loughry wrote about the importance of public trust in the judicial system.
“He betrayed his own words,” Wright said. “Find him guilty.”
Loughry, 48, was suspended from his seat earlier this year after the state Judicial Investigation Commission said he kept secret a December federal subpoena served on the Supreme Court. He was replaced as chief justice in February after the other justices received another subpoena and found out about the first one.
One of the counts against Loughry, witness tampering, was related to a meeting he had with Kim Ellis, the court’s director of administrative services. Loughry and Ellis had met to discuss the $350,000 cost of his office renovation. Prosecutors say Loughry had reason to believe a federal grand jury investigation was forthcoming and tried to coach the employee and “plant a false narrative” about their conversations on the renovation costs.
A theme throughout the trial was about Loughry taking home a green leather couch and a $42,000 antique desk from the Supreme Court chambers to use, without permission, as part of his home office. He returned the items last year after media inquiries about them.
The indictment says Loughry lied to federal investigators by saying he was unaware about the historical significance and value of the state-owned desk. Loughry testified he thought it was an old desk, but former Justice Brent Benjamin testified last week Loughry knew about the desk’s history and that Loughry said he was “very fortunate to have this.”
Former Supreme Court administrator Steve Canterbury also testified Loughry was allowed to have a computer and a printer, but the term “home office” and the desk were never discussed.
Carr, Loughry’s attorney, told jurors Wednesday some witnesses incorrectly remembered conversations they had with Loughry — or lied altogether.
Loughry faces an impeachment trial before the state Senate next month. Justice Beth Walker was cleared last week. Justice Margaret Workman and retired Justice Robin Davis face similar trials this month.
A fifth justice, Menis Ketchum, resigned before impeachment proceedings began.