CHARLESTON - In the month since his top assistant promised otherwise, Attorney General Darrell McGraw has handed out $1 million of lawsuit settlement money to various groups across the state.
Late last week, McGraw's office gave $50,000 to the Mineral County Commission for its Day Report Center and $75,000 more to the Lee Day Report Center in the northern panhandle.
Added to $875,000 the office had given out since Feb. 12 when Chief Deputy Attorney General Fran Hughes told the Senate Finance Committee that the AG's office would stop doing so, that equals $1 million.
On Feb. 22, McGraw's office awarded $220,000 to three county day reports centers. The money, according to McGraw's office, is from the third installment in the $10 million settlement with Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of the drug Oxycontin. Then on Feb. 26, McGraw's office then gave out $280,000 to four county day report centers and another similar private group.
Then on March 6, McGraw's office announced it doled out $375,000 more to nine different day report centers and community corrections programs. The counties that received funds were Harrison ($30,000), Wyoming ($40,000), McDowell ($40,000), Monongalia ($40,000), Cabell ($40,000), Upshur/26th Judicial Circuit ($40,000), Barbour ($45,000), Preston ($50,000), and Wayne ($50,000).
Critics argue that it isn't part of McGraw's job to hand out the money. They say the AG's office should put the lawsuit settlements into the state's general revenue fund. Then, legislators would decide how the money should be spent.
"My comment was I'll believe when I see it," state Sen. Vic Sprouse, a Kanawha County Republican member of the Finance Committee, told The Record last week. "And I'll continue to think that way."
The president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce agrees.
"It certainly appears inappropriate, and clearly he and his staff are not in sync with each other," Steve Roberts said.
Steve Cohen, executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, had a similar sentiment.
"McGraw's questionable ethics compromise the integrity of West Virginia's system of justice and drives jobs from out state," Cohen said.
McGraw and his office maintains that the OxyContin settlement is an applied trust because the judge ordered the money be used to combat drug addiction. He said giving money to day report centers falls into that category.
"The programs offered through the Day Report Centers and Community Correction Programs include individual counseling, group counseling, gambling abuse assessment, drug and alcohol education, drug testing, parenting education and basic adult education, and job placement. These programs address the specific needs of each individual client referred to the facility," McGraw has said in several press releases announcing the awards. "Public service projects like day report centers and community correction programs give non-violent offenders, the opportunity to rehabilitate their lives and cuts the escalating cost to counties for the regional jails."
Previously the office has given $500,000 to the University of Charleston for its pharmacy school and $30,000 to the Clay Center for a traveling Sesame Street exhibit about the human body.
Purdue Pharma settlement agreed to pay West Virginia $10 million over four years. The bulk of the money -- including the $1 million from this year's distribution -- has been used to operate the Day Report Centers and help communities fight the scourge of drug abuse that wrecks a community, according to McGraw's office.