WSAZ Investigates | Lawmakers to question State Police spending
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - With allegations swirling of wrongdoing by members of the West Virginia State Police, state lawmakers are preparing to question the agency on its spending of money you provide with every vehicle inspection.
West Virginia vehicle owners pay State Police $3 with every vehicle inspection. According to state code, that $3 per inspection can only be used for specific purposes -- enforcement of the inspection law and “for the purchase of vehicles, equipment for vehicles, and maintenance of vehicles.”
But some lawmakers -- including Senate Finance Chairman Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, and House Finance Chairman Vernon Criss, R-Wood -- say they want to know if the money in the State Police Motor Vehicle Inspection Fund is being spent according to state law.
This after an anonymous letter sent to state officials in February brought allegations of wrongdoing against members of the State Police. One of those allegations claim the agency has utilized money from the MVI fund to “purchase large expense items not for vehicles.”
Now state lawmakers say they’re ready to ask State Police questions about how the money is being spent in a Joint Standing Committee on Finance meeting Monday.
“What are you looking for there,” asked WSAZ NewsChannel 3′s Curtis Johnson.
“Given the investigations and everything that’s going on with the State Police, and some of the sources that several of the legislators have been coming to us with, we’re wondering if there’s something else that they’ve been using that money for, and if so, what has it been,” Tarr replied.
“Do you have reason to believe that it was used for something else,” Johnson asked.
“We do,” Tarr said. “And the reason we have to believe is because people have come to several of us in the Legislature and said, ‘This is a place you need to look.’ So it’s enough that we’re asking the auditor if he has information on those accounts for us.”
The anonymous letter also includes claims some items bought with money from the MVI fund would not follow the law.
So Johnson showed the letter to Tarr.
“It talks about the idea that some of the money has been used for body cameras and Tasers, Harley Davidsons,” Johnson said. “Is that appropriate use of that fund?”
“The way that the statute is written, it’s for equipment on the cars, and its for maintenance and it is for new vehicles,” Tarr answered. “So if you went in for Tasers, if it’s not a Taser that’s attached to the car -- its not an appropriate fund. Now should police have Tasers? Absolutely, this is not the way the Legislature said you fund that, and it’s not given the discretion of any secretary or any captain of state police or anybody that was in that administration to change how those funds would be used. So if that’s accurate, then that’s a misuse of those earmark dollars.”
“At the end of the day, taxpayers want the money to be spent appropriately and be spent for appropriate things,” Johnson replied. “Many of those taxpayers would say body cams, Tasers are appropriate things. Why would this be a problem?”
“Because it’s not legal,” Tarr said. “The statute is very clear on what the vehicle inspection funds are to be used for.”
The Motor Vehicle Inspection Fund typically receives about $3 million to $4 million each year.
Tarr and Criss said if they would find any use of those funds to purchase items that do not follow the law. it could result in policy changes at State Police and potentially new legislation to tighten controls on that account.
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