Eric Douglas Published

Senator Asks Feds For CARES Money Investigation

A gray haired man in a gray suit sits at a desk.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman, Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam questioned VOAD executive director during a legislative flooding committee meeting.
Will Price/WV Legislative Photography

Updated on Monday, March 20, 2023 at 5:50 p.m.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman, Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, is questioning if Gov. Jim Justice has violated federal law and has requested the federal Office of the Inspector General to investigate. 

At issue is the movement of $28,375,985.43 in CARES Act funding to a special account controlled by the governor’s office for non-COVID-19 related expenses. 

Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic to provide aid to individuals struggling with job loss. The state of West Virginia received $1.25 billion in aid as well, but it came with stipulations on how the state could spend the money as well as time limitations. 

In a Senate Finance Committee meeting on Feb. 3, during the regular session of the West Virginia Legislature, the governor’s chief counsel, Berkeley Bentley, explained that the governor approved the transfer of the money to his discretionary fund. 

Testimony indicated the money was to be used for COVID-19-related expenses for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Jeff Sandy, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, testified that prior to this transfer, the department did have COVID-19 expenses, but it had already been reimbursed for that expense. After that transfer, only an additional $280,721 was transferred to the Department of Corrections. 

State Auditor J.B. McCuskey testified that the transfer was unusual for its type and amount for this fund. Previously, the largest transfer into the fund was $250,000. One of the most notable uses of the money was $10 million to Marshall University for the baseball stadium. 

Tarr sent his letter to the Office of the Inspector General in Washington, D.C. asking for a response regarding concerns about the ethics, legality and risk of any future clawbacks of the money by the federal government. 

In an emailed statement from the governor’s office, Press Secretary C.J. Harvey said, “This letter is simply a regurgitation of old news. Unfortunately, Senator Tarr can’t let it go. The Governor’s Office firmly believes that all transactions involving the use of CARES Act funds were legal and appropriate. Decisions on the use of funds were made with the advice of legal counsel and two national CPA firms, including one who completed an independent audit and found no issues.”