CHARLESTON – A Logan County attorney disbarred for his conviction in a vote-buying scheme to help his ex-wife win election to the House of Delegates is asking that he again be allowed to practice law.
Last January, Mark O. Hrutkay petitioned the state Supreme Court for reinstatement of his law license. Hrutkay had an opportunity to make his case at a hearing before a subcommittee of the Court's Lawyer Disciplinary Board held Feb. 17 at the Office of Disciplinary Counsel in Charleston.
The Court on May 11, 2005, ordered Hrutkay's disbarment following his indictment in 2004 for mail fraud. The charge stemmed from an investigation by the F.B.I that found Hrutkay failed to disclose on forms he submitted to the Secretary of State's Office $10,000 he gave to then-Sheriff John Mendez to help promote his wife Lidella Wilson Hrutkay's first campaign for the House four years earlier.
Hrutkay, and Mendez were among several caught in an election fraud dragnet headed by then-Assistant U.S. Attorney R. Booth Goodwin II, now the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District. The probe was enabled by Thomas Esposito, an attorney, and former Logan mayor, who ran for House using his campaign as a front to aid the FBI to discover information about election fraud.
During the hearing, Hrutkay, 52, said after he received a subpoena to testify before the grand jury figured Esposito acted as an informant since prior to the 2004 campaign the two had not talked to each other much. The U.S. Attorney's Office used Esposito's concealment of crimes committed by Logan Magistrate Danny R. Wells, who was convicted, and sentenced to eight years on bribery charges, as leverage for his cooperation in the investigation.
For it, he was disbarred, and received probation.
From the time he received the subpoena, Hrutkay said he cooperated with the U.S. Attorney's Office, and the FBI. Both then and now, Hrutkay said he knew giving the money was wrong, but felt he had little choice to do it.
"I knew I shouldn't have done it," Hrutkay said. "I did it because if we had lost that election, I would've never heard the end of it."
According to Hrutkay, he received a call from Lidella during the filing period prior to the 2000 election that she decided to be a candidate for what was then the 20th, but would later become the19th Delegate District. The district included all of Logan, most of Lincoln and parts of Boone and Putnam counties.
Shortly after she filed her paperwork, Hrutkay said he was "absolutely waylaid" by Rick Abraham, then-county Democratic executive committee chairman, for Lidella not first seeking permission from him to run for office. Nevertheless, he said Lidella later received Abraham's blessing, and was included on the "Triple AAA" slate of candidates.
Along with Abraham, the slate's moniker came from Art Kirkendoll, a county commissioner and Alvis Porter, the circuit clerk. In November, Kirkendoll was appointed to fill the state Senate seat vacated by former Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin following his election as governor.
Sometime after Lidella was certified to run in the election, Hrutkay said he was approached by Mendez about contributing money to have her name placed on the slate. Knowing how crucial a slate plays in the election, Hrutkay said he begrudgingly gave Mendez $10,000.
"If you ran without the support of the slate," Hrutkay told the panel, "you stood no chance of winning."
The money, Hrutkay said, ostensibly went for legitimate get-out-the-vote efforts, and some illegitimate such as matchbooks containing $5 bills given to voters on election day. The people employed by operatives like Mendez would routinely ignore the prohibition of electioneering with 300 feet of a poling place.
Nevertheless, Hrutkay averred, once he paid Mendez, he had no idea where the money went.
"Knowing John Mendez, he probably gambled it," Hrutkay said.
Regardless, Hrutkay said Lidella was successful in winning the election. In fact, he said she was the top vote-getter in the House race.
Though he served as her campaign treasurer, it was not until he began cooperating with authorities that Lidella learned he paid Mendez, Hrutkay said. It was after her winning the first election they filed for divorce which was finalized in 2002.
As part of his sentence, Hrutkay was ordered to make restitution to the government of $45,000, two years worth of Lidella's legislative salary. Also, he was sentenced to a year in prison, of which he served all but six weeks.
Good reputation despite conviction
In addition to Charleston attorney Michael Callaghan, who represented him in the mail fraud charge, Hrutkay had two long-time friends from Chapmanville, Floyd Browning, and John A. McCormick, testify before the panel on his behalf. Both Browning, a retired UPS driver, and McCormick, a retired West Virginia State Trooper, said despite his conviction, Hrutkay has a stellar reputation in the community.
According to McCormick, the reason is that he was able to relate to many of the people, particularly coal miners, on whose behalf Hrutkay pursued workers' compensation claims. On more than one occasion, McCormick said while they were eating at the Shoney's in Chapmanville, a client would come up to Hrutkay to thank him for enabling them "to eat in this fancy restaurant."
When asked what he would do if his license was reinstated, Hrutkay, currently a resident of Kingsport, Tenn., said he would most likely focus on Social Security law. The demand for that type of work, he said, is such that he could work out of an office he has in Pineville two days a week, and spend the rest in Kingsport.
The panel is expected to make its recommendation on Hrutkay's reinstatement sometime this summer.
West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals case number 11-0136