Federal Prosecutors Probing Use of Flood Relief Money in West Virginia

In this AP file photo, U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart speaks at a news conference, Wednesday, July 31, 2018, at the federal courthouse in Charleston, W.Va.

Federal prosecutors are investigating the use of federal disaster relief funds given to West Virginia after a deadly flood in 2016.

U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart announced the investigation in a news release Wednesday, saying “diversion, fraud, corruption or delay cannot and will not be tolerated.”

“Desperate communities and West Virginians need certainty that in a future disaster intended assistance will be delivered timely and spent properly,” he said.

Stuart’s announcement did not specify who the investigation is targeting.

The federal probe follows a state audit into the misuse of federal flood money in the city of Richwood that resulted in criminal charges against its mayor, former mayor, police chief and former clerk.

State Auditor John B. McCuskey found that the city didn’t keep track of the federal money, diverted funds away from their intended use and shelled out almost a quarter of a million dollars for consultants to help the city with the grant. He said that only about $400,000 of the more than $3 million the city received went toward flood recovery, with the rest unaccounted for.

“What we know is where they didn’t go,” he told a crowd of angry residents when he released his report in late March. “And anybody can walk down main street in Richwood and see where they didn’t go.”

Republican Gov. Jim Justice has faced criticism over his administration’s slow spending of a flood recovery program that has received $150 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. His spokesman did not respond to a voicemail seeking comment.

“The poor folks who were hurt the most with the flood are still hurting and they haven’t been able to get any relief,” said state Del. Isaac Sponaugle, a Democrat, who added that he welcomes the investigation.

In June 2016, thunderstorms drenched the region with as much as 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain, leading to overflown rivers and catastrophic flooding. Twenty-three people died, scores of homes were damaged or destroyed and infrastructure was wrecked.