UPDATE | Former W.Va. SUPCO justice will not go to prison

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ/WV MetroNews) -- UPDATE 3/6/19 @ 2:13 p.m.
Former West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Menis E. Ketchum II will not spend any time in prison.

A judge sentenced Ketchum to a $20,000 fine and three years of probation. He was also ordered to pay $749.77 in restitution to the state.

Ketchum pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in August of 2018. The former justice admitted to using a state-owned vehicle and a state-issued gas card for personal use for golf trips to Virginia. He resigned from the state Supreme Court in July, a day before impeachment proceedings were beginning.

"I'm just plain guilty. I'm sorry, but sorry is no excuse," Ketchum said.

During his sentencing Wednesday, the judge did not order any prison time or home confinement.

The judge said Ketchum likely has more good years ahead of him. He suggested the former justice either do pro bono work either as a paralegal or in the education community.

Ketchum served on the high court from January 2008 until his retirement.

U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart spoke of the case after Ketchum's sentencing.

"The difference between this and the Loughry case is that he accepted responsibility," Stuart said. "Although we still believe that the appropriate sentence would be to sentence within the guidelines that public corruption of any type of any sort, at any level is a serious infraction to the people of West Virginia, we accept the decision of the judge."



UPDATE 2/18/19 @ 12:05 p.m.
Lawyers for former West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Menis Ketchum are asking that he only be placed on probation or fined when he is sentenced this month on a federal wire fraud charge.

Federal prosecutors counter that an appropriate punishment for Ketchum would be adhering to federal sentencing guidelines, which include a fine and an advisory imprisonment range of six to 12 months.

“Corruption is a cancer that erodes the public’s confidence in the government and undermines the rule of law,” federal prosecutors wrote.

Each side recently filed documents meant to persuade U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver during sentencing, which is currently scheduled for Feb. 27.

Last week, Copenhaver sentenced Ketchum’s former Supreme Court colleague, Allen Loughry, to two years in federal prison on federal fraud charges. The judge said Loughry had not demonstrated remorse.

Rather than going to trial, Ketchum pleaded guilty to one wire fraud count.

The former justice admitted to using a state-owned vehicle and a state-issued gas card for personal use for golf trips to Virginia. He resigned from the Supreme Court in July, a day before impeachment proceedings were beginning.

Ketchum also agreed to pay back the state up to $700.

Lawyers for Ketchum, who referred to him simply as Menis in their filing, suggested that a pre-sentence report overcounted the misdeeds that make up the sentencing guidelines in his case.

There are four sentencing zones: A, B, C, and D. Zone A consists of sentencing ranges of 0 to 6 months. Zone B consists of sentencing ranges above Zone A but with a maximum penalty of no more than 15 months.

“We respectfully submit that a term of imprisonment should not be imposed if the court finds that Menis’ total offense level is ten, which falls within Zone B,” his lawyers wrote.

“Moreover, we submit that Menis’ total offense level should be reduced to level eight, Zone A, and he should be placed on probation only or fined only.”

Lawyers for Ketchum also take note of several factors they believe should lead to some leniency.

Those include his age, 76, and lack of criminal history. Ketchum’s lawyers also note his activity in community activities and professional service.

Also, “as a result of his conviction, he has lost his job, lost his state pension, lost his law license and lost his good reputation.”

And, “he has expressed sincere remorse which is acknowledged in the presentence report.”

His lawyers note that before Ketchum knew he was subject to federal investigation he requested that the Supreme Court issue him amended W-2s regarding the use of the state car. He then paid the related income taxes.

After he discovered there was a federal investigation, he started reimbursing the state for his personal use of the state car.

“He has totally reimbursed the state for the personal use of the car, except for Seven Hundred Forty-Nine Dollars Seventy-Seven Cents ($749.77) that was discovered after he learned of the federal investigation,” his lawyers wrote.

“He did not reimburse this amount on the advice of his lawyer who was having talks with Anna Forbes, assistant United States Attorney.”

Federal prosecutors, in their own filing, agree with much of that.

“Defendant Ketchum has accepted responsibility for his actions. He has demonstrated remorse, and has not displayed a continued arrogance or willingness to abuse authority,” prosecutors wrote.

“He is in his seventies and is not a violent person. He does not represent a danger to the community or a threat to repeat his fraudulent conduct. He appears to have learned a harsh lesson.”

But the prosecutors say Ketchum’s offense is still very serious because he violated the trust of citizens.

“The offense is significant because of defendant Ketchum’s position as a sitting Justice on the highest court in the State of West Virginia. It was his duty to apply and follow the law,” prosecutors wrote.

“The fraudulent conduct thus represents a betrayal of the trust placed in him by the public when it elected him to serve as a Justice, and the relatively small amount of loss to the State provides no excuse.”

In asking that the sentence include a fine and possible jail time, prosecutors say it’s important to make an example of Ketchum.

“In a case such as this, general deterrence is the most important factor in determining an appropriate sentence. Fraud crimes committed by public officials, particularly by those in high office, are very difficult to identify, investigate, and prosecute,” prosecutors wrote.

“These types of crimes, even for relatively minor gains, impose a tremendous social cost when finally exposed, for they weaken the public’s trust and confidence in government and breed a cynicism and distrust of government that is not conducive to a healthy society. Judges in particular must obey the law, because they oversee the judicial system.”



UPDATE 1/16/19 @ 4:09 p.m.
The sentencing date for former West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Menis Ketchum is being moved, but there’s a disagreement over when it might wind up being.

U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver entered an order on Tuesday to move Ketchum’s sentencing to 1:30 p.m. Feb. 27. The original date had been Jan. 30. The judge didn’t specify a reason for the delay.

Ketchum’s lawyers then filed their own motion asking to change the new date.

They cited a conflict.

“The grounds for this motion are that counsel’s wife has scheduled surgery procedures at the Cleveland Clinic to begin on the morning of February 27, 2019,” they wrote.

“Further, the surgical date was not scheduled until last week and is the product of coordinating the schedules of two surgeons.”

Copenhaver had not yet filed a public response.

Ketchum pleaded guilty in August to one count of wire fraud.

The former justice admitted to using a state-owned vehicle and a state-issued gas card for personal use for golf trips to Virginia. He resigned from the Supreme Court in July, a day before impeachment proceedings were beginning.

Former Justice Allen Loughry also had his sentencing date delayed this week.

Loughry’s sentencing originally was set for this Wednesday. On Monday afternoon, Copenhaver submitted an order moving the sentencing to 1:30 p.m. February 13.

Copenhaver wrote that the date was changed to allow for presentence reports to be revised. That’s because Copenhaver issued a separate order late last week acquitting the former justice of a witness tampering charge.

Loughry still faces sentencing on 10 counts. A jury found him guilty in October of 11 of the 23 counts he originally faced.

Mail fraud counts charged Loughry with improperly seeking travel expense reimbursement for travel to a conference, even though he had used a state vehicle and a state-issued gasoline purchasing card.

The similar wire fraud counts charged Loughry with using a state vehicle and state-issued gasoline purchasing card for personal travel. Most of those trips were for signing events for Loughry’s book on political corruption in West Virginia.

UPDATE 10/30/18 @ 5:10 p.m.
A sentencing date has been set for a former West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals justice who pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud.

Menis Ketchum will appear in court at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 30, 2019. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

Ketchum served on the high court from January 2008 until his retirement in July, just weeks prior to the impeachment of four state Supreme Court justices.

Investigators say Ketchum admitted to repeated personal use of a state vehicle and state fuel credit card for a nearly three-year period from 2011 to 2014. They say Ketchum would travel from his home in Huntington to and from a private golf club in western Virginia.



UPDATE 8/23/18 @ 5:50 p.m.
It is rare to find a judge from the state's highest court on the other side of a courtroom. Thursday, it happened twice at the federal courthouse in Charleston.

Suspended Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry was arraigned on two additional charges. He pleaded guilty to the charges, bringing the total number of charges against him to 25.

In another courtroom, newly resigned Supreme Court Justice Menis Ketchum pleaded guilty to a federal charge, one count of wire fraud.

The former Justice appeared relaxed and calm in court as he pleaded guilty to wire fraud, a charge filed in a federal information at the end of July. The plea means he faces up to 20 years in prison.

The judge read parts of the federal information and plea deal in detail, as Ketchum agreed to each point.

Several people watched the historic plea hearing, that lasted approximately 50 minutes, from the courtroom, including two of Ketchum's relatives and House Judiciary Chair John Shott.

The wire fraud charges relates to Ketchum's use of a state vehicle and a state credit card to purchase gas, that he admits he used for personal golf trips to Virginia, including one in August 2014 and at least seven others between 2012 and 2016. Court records say each trip cost the state of West Virginia about $200 a trip.

A judge said in court Thursday that Ketchum has already started paying retribution to the state.

Ketchum was released on a $100,000 unsecured bond, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office spokesperson.

Cameras and cell phones are not allowed in federal courtrooms. Media waited for hours outside of the courthouse to talk with Ketchum and question him. Eventually, a spokesperson for the U.S. Marshals Service learned and told media that someone from the U.S. Attorney's Office allowed Ketchum to leave the courthouse from a backdoor that is not available to the public.

Ketchum is set to be sentenced Dec. 6.



UPDATE 8/23/18 @ 3:40 p.m.
Former West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Justice Menis E. Ketchum II pleaded guilty Thursday to federal wire fraud, U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart says.

Ketchum, who served on the high court from January 2008 until his retirement last month, faces up to 20 years in prison. He is set to be sentenced Dec. 6. Ketchum already has begun paying restitution to the state.

Investigators say Ketchum admitted to repeated personal use of a state vehicle and state fuel credit card for a nearly 3-year period from 2011 to 2014. Investigators say Ketchum would travel from his home in Huntington to and from a private golf club in western Virginia.

The round-trip mileage for each of these golf outings was about 400 miles and cost West Virginia taxpayers nearly $220 per trip, according to investigators.

"Justice Ketchum did the right thing for doing the wrong thing," Stuart said in a news release. "There is no such thing as a small felony. There is no such thing as a little bit of public corruption. I want to praise the exemplary work of the FBI, the West Virginia Legislature's Commission on Special Investigations, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations, and prosecutors Anna Forbes and Phil Wright."

Ketchum did not have anything to say to the media. U.S. marshals say federal attorneys let him out a back door that's not intended for the general public.



UPDATE 8/23/18 @ 11:14 a.m.
Former West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Menis E. Ketchum II is scheduled to appear in federal court Thursday.

Ketchum has agreed to plead guilty to one count of wire fraud in connection with an extensive investigation into the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

A plea hearing was scheduled for Aug. 23 at 11 a.m. in Charleston Federal Court.

Ketchum, whose resignation and retirement took effect July 27, is accused of using a state-owned vehicle for personal use. He also allegedly used tax payer money to pay for the gas.

The former justice faces a penalty of up to 20 years in federal prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

We have a crew at the courthouse.

Keep checking WSAZ Mobile and WSAZ.com for the latest information.

UPDATE 7/31/18 @ 4 p.m.
Former West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Menis E. Ketchum II will plead guilty to a federal charge.

U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart announced the guilty plea to a felony charge of defrauding the state of West Virginia in a news conference Tuesday.

"Justice Ketchum stepped up and owned his illegal actions," Stuart said. "I believe that we have to start expecting more of the state."

Ketchum, whose resignation and retirement took effect July 27, is accused of using a state-owned vehicle for personal use.

The former justice faces a penalty of up to 20 years in federal prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

Stuart said they do not believe Ketchum obstructed justice or lied to federal agents.

The West Virginia Association for Justice issued the following statement Tuesday afternoon:

“The West Virginia Association for Justice is very disappointed that Justice Ketchum broke the law and violated West Virginia voters' trust in him and our West Virginia Supreme Court. Those in public office, especially our judges, should be held to the highest standards of ethics and professional conduct," said
Stephen P. New, president of the West Virginia Association for Justice.

"I believe that Justice Ketchum's actions in recent weeks reflect his remorse. He filed amended tax returns, repaid the state and resigned from the West Virginia Supreme Court. He has pled guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors. We will learn the outcome once his hearing is scheduled.

“Restoring full public confidence in West Virginia’s highest court and its justices must be the priority now. The West Virginia Supreme Court must resume its critical role and serious work with no further distractions.”



ORIGINAL STORY 7/31/18
Former West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Menis E. Ketchum II is facing a federal charge.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of West Virginia filed the charge Tuesday.

It alleges that Ketchum, who just recently retired/resigned, used a state-owned vehicle for personal use. He also allegedly used tax payer money to pay for the gas.

Investigators say Ketchum started using the vehicle in January of 2012 to commute to and from work. The justice lived in Huntington and worked at the State Capitol in Charleston.

"His use of the Buick Lucerne was supposed to be limited to exclusively business-related purposes and not for personal travel," the indictment states.

Ketchum allegedly used a state-issued fuel credit card to pay for the gas.

Court documents also say that between Aug. 6, 2014 and Aug. 9, 2014, Ketchum drove from his home in Huntington to a private golf club in western Virginia. The mileage for the trip was nearly 400 miles, the charge states, and the total value of the use of the car during this three-day golfing trip was $220.80.

Investigators say Ketchum drove to that Virginia golf club and use the state-owned fuel card on at least seven other occasions.

"The fraudulent conduct by defendant Menis E. Ketchum II consisted of a scheme to defraud the State of West Virginia in order to obtain money and property through false and fraudulent pretenses and representations, that is, through his unauthorized personal use of a state-owned Buick Lucerne and the state-fuel card during his travel to and from West Virginia and the western Virginia golf club in 2011 through 2014."

According to the court document containing the charge, Ketchum was a justice for the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia from Jan. 1, 2008 through July 27, 2018.

He served as the chief justice twice: in 2012 and 2016.

On July 11, 2018 Ketchum submitted a letter of resignation and retirement to take effect July 27. That came just weeks before an impeachment investigation into the justices.