CHARLESTON – Chief Deputy Attorney General Fran Hughes called herself the "chief architect" of a "brilliant plan" to use more than $1 million of lawsuit settlement money to re-elect Attorney General Darrell McGraw and Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw in 2004, according to the deposition of a former AG's office employee.
Dr. Allen H. Loughry II said in a Jan. 4 deposition that Hughes ruled the AG's office "with an iron fist and relished having such power and control over people."
Loughry, who now is a law clerk for state Supreme Court Justice Spike Maynard, was deposed in the case of Debra Whanger, another former AG's office employee who filed a lawsuit in 2005 after she was fired, alleging she improperly fired.
Whanger's said Hughes and McGraw made her a scapegoat in a controversy over $142,000 worth of promotional items, or "trinkets," bearing McGraw's name for distribution at the state fair prior to the 2004 general election. Whanger claimed she was fired to deflect criticism over the purchases, although she said she was told by supervisors to place the orders.
It was announced earlier this month that Whanger's suit was settled for $125,000.
Much of Loughry's deposition focuses on "Don't Buy Another Vote, I Won't Pay For A Landslide," a 2006 book he wrote about West Virginia's history of political corruption. He mentioned the "chief architect" of the "brilliant plan" in his book.
"… one Attorney General's Office employee explained to me a plan which was already in place to raise more than $1,000,000 through the Attorney General's Office lawsuit settlements that were to be used to run television spots featuring Darrell during his election year to benefit both Darrell and Warren," Loughry wrote in his book. "This individual called themselves the 'chief architect' of the so-called 'brilliant plan' and said after spending that much money advertising the name McGraw, 'nobody will be able to touch us in this or any future campaign.'"
"The person, the Attorney General's Office employee who said that to, was Fran Hughes?" Whanger attorney Mark Atkinson asked Loughry during his deposition.
"That is correct," Loughry replied.
Earlier in the deposition, Loughry also said he personally had problems with the use of the trinkets. He also said he thinks the use of state money to influence elections is a problem.
"I believe that every single elected official in the state of West Virginia, not just Darrell McGraw, uses trinkets and other things to gain name recognition," he said.
In his book, Loughry also details the background of the trinket purchase, Whanger's firing and the "argument that the money is not state money." He calls that notion "simply bogus."
"It's my belief that anybody, anybody that says the money isn't state money, anybody, whether it's the current administration, whether it's A. James Manchin, whether it's anybody in those types of situations, it is state money," Loughry said in his deposition. "… the attorney general's office is not a private law firm and any money that is within that office, I believe, is state money, every single penny of that."
Loughry goes on to describe Hughes' control of the office.
"My experience was that nothing happened there without Fran's approval," Loughry wrote in his book. "I even remember Fran announcing that the mere purchase of a paper clip had to have her direct authorization. She ruled with an iron fist and relished having such power and control over people."
In the deposition, he elaborated.
"It's my memory of that situation, and as far as the paper clip, I actually remember specifically, when I remember that," Loughry said. "The office had … significant problem with resources, at some point, and it's my recollection that Fran basically cracked down and said there's not going to be, you know, spending without approval, basically."
In her deposition, Whanger backed up Loughry's characterization of Hughes' control of the AG's office.
"I was afraid of Fran," Whanger said in her Dec. 21 deposition. "Everybody is afraid of Fran."
Loughry also said Hughes frequently asked his opinion about trinkets.
"I can't remember how many times Fran asked me for an opinion about the design of a key chain, a magnet, or a pill box," he wrote.
"So Ms. Hughes would come to you and ask you how this magnet, or whatever, ought to be designed?" Atkinson asked.
"I may have been walking up the hallway to see the Attorney General," Loughry replied. "It may have been during a conversation about a case. It may have been during something else. I don't know that it was ever a conversation started specifically in that manner."
Loughry devoted an entire 31-page chapter to the McGraw brothers in his book. Much of that chapter focuses on the 2004 election that saw Darrell edge Hiram Lewis to win re-election as attorney general but saw Warren lose his state Supreme Court seat to Brent Benjamin.