Former West Virginia health official pleads guilty in COVID-19 payment investigation

FILE - A dose of a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is prepared, Nov. 4, 2021, in Barboursville, W.Va. On Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024, a federal judge in West Virginia scheduled a plea hearing for Monday, Jan. 22, for a former state health office manager who was indicted on charges related to coronavirus pandemic relief payments. (Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch via AP, File)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A former West Virginia state health official pleaded guilty Monday to lying about whether or not he verified vendor invoices from a company claiming to have conducted COVID-19 tests for the state.

In federal court Monday, Timothy Priddy admitted making a false statement to investigators in a case that had been set to go to trial Tuesday.

An indictment filed in October charged Priddy with lying to federal agents in August 2022 when he said he verified a vendor’s invoices for performing COVID-19 tests as part of a back-to-school program before approving them. Priddy knew his statements were false because he made no such verification efforts, according to prosecutors.

Priddy faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing was set for May 9.

Priddy, who held various managerial positions with the state Bureau for Public Health’s Center for Threat Preparedness, left his job the day the indictment was announced.

Prosecutors said federal investigators were trying to determine whether one or more vendors providing COVID-19 tests and mitigation services to the state overbilled or otherwise received federal payments they shouldn’t have through the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

Prosecutors said the vendor involved in Priddy’s case reported the results of about 49,000 COVID-19 tests between October 2020 and March 2022 but submitted invoices reflecting the cost of about 518,000 test kits. The indictment did not name the vendor, but said the company was from out of state and provided test kits, laboratory analysis and held community testing events throughout West Virginia.

Vendors were required to report test results so officials would have accurate information about the number of COVID-19 infections and any geographical hot spots, the indictment said.

The West Virginia health department has said a contract with the company ended in October 2022 and that the agency cooperated fully with federal investigators.