CHARLESTON -- While the West Virginia Attorney General's Office continues to stay mum on subpoenas issued to Gov. Joe Manchin's administration, a source within the state Department of Highways has revealed that one of the targets of the federal probe include a multi-million dollar road that runs through Fairmont.
The DOH source told WSAZ-TV that the subpoenas are broad, but the Fairmont Gateway in Marion County is one of the targets.
The $150 million road has been under construction for several years and connects Interstate 79 to Fairmont, the governor's hometown.
Larry Puccio, Manchin's former chief of staff and current chair of the state's Democratic Party, also runs a real estate business in the city. Sources believe Puccio could be part of the probe.
Manchin told the television station he could not comment on the investigation and said he didn't know if Puccio is a target.
Those close to the federal probe have remained quiet, including the attorney general's office.
The office is refusing to release any information about the subpoenas issued to the highways department and the state's Office of Administration, despite media law experts saying the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, requires the attorney general to release the information.
The Charleston Gazette and WSAZ have filed numerous FOIA requests, and all get the same response, they say.
Special Assistant Attorney General Dwane Tinsley -- a Charleston lawyer hired by Attorney General Darrell McGraw to assist in the case -- has declined to release the contents of the subpoenas. He cites federal rules that govern criminal proceedings.
"The statute which specifically exempts disclosure in this instance is Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e), which prohibits government attorneys and others from '(disclosing) a matter occurring before the grand jury.'"
But media law experts say the exemption for "government attorneys" is for U.S. Attorneys who are part of the investigation, not defense attorneys.
Some believe the attorney general's office is simply stonewalling the media and the public's right to know.
Dave Barnette, an attorney at Jackson Kelly PLLC and who has shared his knowledge of subpoenas with listeners of Hoppy Kercheval's radio show TalkLine, has said he doesn't believe McGraw's office has a good reason for not releasing the contents of the federal subpoenas.
Barnette currently serves as the general counsel to the West Virginia Broadcasters Association and regularly represents some of the state's largest television and radio stations on an individual basis. He's also a member of Jackson Kelly's business department.
In an interview with The West Virginia Record last month, Barnette pointed to a similar case in Illinois years ago in which former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration was served with grand jury subpoenas. The newspaper there, he said, also sought access to the documents, and Blagojevich's office tried citing the same federal rule that Tinsley did. In the end, the court upheld the administration had to release the subpoenas.
Barnette told The Record he didn't see how West Virginia and the current situation were any different.
The lawyer said not releasing any information about the subpoenas or the documents themselves also just looks bad for the administration -- something they should want to avoid given Manchin's campaign for the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd's seat in November.
With its FOIA requests denied, WSAZ said it could be forced to take its battle for information to court.
The state would likely appeal and it would be several months before the television station found out anything -- perhaps not until after the November election.