CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Secretary of State’s office is questioning how the Kanawha County Prosecutor’s Office handled an investigation into some campaign contributions to Justice Robin Jean Davis’s 2012 re-election campaign.
In June, Secretary of State legal counsel Stephen Connolly asked Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney Charles Miller’s office to look further into what he called “unlawful” bundling of campaign donations from Florida connected to Mississippi attorney Michael Fuller Jr. and business associate Steven Edwards.
Miller responded in August, saying the five-year statute of limitations had passed or nearly passed on all of the donations. Miller’s office had looked at 17 $1,000 donation checks.
West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse released the documents Dec. 19 after filing a Freedom of Information Request with Miller’s office.
“The types of events described in the report constitute misdemeanor criminal offenses,” Miller wrote, adding that his office saw nothing that showed Davis or her campaign knew or did anything improper.
Davis declined further comment, but her attorney, James Cole of Sidley Austin in Washington, D.C., told The West Virginia Record said he thinks it boils down to that what Miller said is right.
“There is no indication Robin Davis or her campaign did anything wrong,” Cole said. “They had no idea this conduct was taking place.
“It’s not a Robin Davis issue.”
During the 2012 election cycle, Fuller and his law firm had a nursing home neglect case before the court. Davis was chief justice at the time, and she later wrote the Court’s 2014 decision that reduced the original $91.5 million verdict against Manor Care Inc. to $38 million. Fuller’s firm got $17 million of that. Also, Fuller’s firm had purchased a Lear Jet from Charleston attorney Scott Segal, who is Davis’ husband, for more than $1 million.
WV CALA Executive Director Roman Stauffer said he filed the elections complaint with Secretary of State Mac Warner’s office earlier this year following press reports of the campaign contributions and the jet sale. After Miller’s office didn’t start a criminal case into the matter, Stauffer filed the FOIA request.
“The Secretary of State’s investigative report indicates that offenses such as forgery, uttering, identity theft, falsifying accounts, computer fraud and similar felony violations of West Virginia law occurred in connections with thousands of dollars in political contributions made in 2012 to Justice Robin Davis’ re-election campaign,” Stauffer said. “Secretary of State Mac Warner’s office did a thorough job of gathering evidence, but our Kanawha County Prosecutor, Chuck Miller sat on the report for two months then claimed he was out of time.
The deadline is still in front of us in December, but he passed on the case in August. We are very troubled by Prosecutor Miller’s failure to investigate fully suspected criminal activity in West Virginia.”
“We think sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
The documents show that Connolly went to Florida, but interviewed only one of six people whose checks were being investigated. Checks from 17 people from Florida and Mississippi were the focus of the initial examination. Two of them were written by Edwards’ wife, one being written under her maiden name.
In a recorded interview, Oscar Villanueva told Connelly that Edwards asked him to write a personal check to a West Virginia politician Villanueva didn’t know and told him Fuller would reimburse him. Villanueva and Edwards were business partners in a landscaping company in Plant City, Fla.
Documents released Dec. 19 by WV CALA include official correspondences in which Warner and the State Elections Commission referred the findings of their investigative report into the contributions to Miller for presentation to a Kanawha County grand jury.
Records show Davis received more than $483,000 in total contributions for her 2012 race, including more than 300 checks for the maximum, many from practicing attorneys. She spent $1.29 million, loaning another $860,000 of her own money to her effort.
In a letter to Miller, Warner called the donations “a scheme orchestrated by Michael Fuller Jr. and Steve Edwards.”
“The records indicate that Secretary of State Mac Warner did his job and conducted a thorough investigation in short order,” Stauffer said. “The West Virginia State Election Commission was briefed on the matter during a June 27, 2017, emergency meeting and the matter was referred to Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney Chuck Miller for presentation to the grand jury.
“The FOIA records do not show Mr. Miller conducting any interviews, requesting any documents from the cooperating witness, obtaining subpoenas for records or even if he complied with West Virginia law and presented the evidence to a grand jury.”