The question isn't whether Darrell McGraw took the money, but just how much he took.

So said a Washington, D.C., appeals board this month, currently weighing a multi-million dollar dispute between West Virginia's Attorney General McGraw and the federal agency in charge of funding Medicaid.

The ruling puts state budgeteers on notice: brace yourselves, start looking for places to cut. The McGraw Budget Hole soon will become a Mountain State reality.

At issue are $4.1 million in funds McGraw siphoned away from a state lawsuit settlement for his own use, some very political.

McGraw's 2004 suit against drug maker Purdue Pharma had promised to recoup Medicaid monies "fraudulently" spent on the company's products. It succeeded, but when McGraw got the check, the attorney general refused to make Medicaid whole. He kept the money and passed it around to those whom he felt best deserved it.

As readers of these pages know, he spent it not on health care for West Virginia's poor -- paying for hospitals and doctors -- but instead for pet projects and to promote Darrell McGraw across the state.

The attorney general handed exorbitant "legal fees" to plaintiff's lawyers who also are McGraw political supporters. He held press conferences to proclaim his generosity, dishing out much smaller cash grants to dozens of feel-good, non-profit programs.

One grant underwrote a Sesame Street Exhibit at the Clay Center; another funded a pharmacy school at the University of Charleston. That grant got him a plaque on the wall in his honor.

The U.S. Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) originally opened a probe of McGraw's spending spree after his trusted deputy, Fran Hughes, casually outlined her boss' sleight of hand during a public hearing.

"We have arranged a methodology that has prevented the federal government from coming back and seizing money," Hughes said in a momentary fit of hubris before a state Senate committee.

Now the federal government has arranged its own methodology.

This one won't benefit Darrell McGraw's re-election campaign, but it will cost every West Virginia state taxpayer.

This November, we hope you won't forget it.

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