CHARLESTON — Former state Supreme Court Justice Menis Ketchum was sentenced today in federal court to three years probation after pleading guilty in August to a federal wire fraud charge.
Federal Judge John Copenhaver also sentenced Ketchup to pay $20,000 in fines, along with the $749.11 in restitute to the state during the hearing.
Ketchum's sentencing was supposed to be Jan. 30, then was moved to Feb. 27. The hearing was rescheduled again due to one of the attorney's wives having a surgery scheduled for that day.
Ketchum was asking for probation or a fine for the federal wire fraud charge, but federal prosecutors said he should serve six to 12 months in jail in addition to being fined.
Copenhaver noted at the hearing that Ketchum promptly reimbursed the state and resigned once he knew he had been charged, according to MetroNews.
MetroNews also noted Copenhaver said the probation officer who did Ketchum’s pre-sentencing report said Ketchum was the most remorseful defendant he had dealt with in his 18 years on the job.
“The court recognizes your sincere regret,” Copenhaver said at the hearing.
MetroNews reported Ketchum's full statement: “Judge, I’m just plain guilty. I’m sorry but sorry is no excuse. I owe an apology to state judges. I’ve embarrassed them and caused havoc. They work hard and are underpaid. I apologize to them. I’m really sorry to my wife and three kids. They don’t deserve what I’ve done to them. I have no excuse."
A memorandum filed by Charleston attorney James Cagle, who is representing Ketchum, highlighted several reasons Ketchum, 76, should not face jail time, including that he has no criminal history, showed sincere remorse, community and professional service, efforts to fix tax issues prior to knowledge of a federal investigation and reimbursement of money for his personal use of a state car before he knew of a federal investigation.
“As a result of his conviction, (Ketchum) has lost his job, lost his state pension, lost his law license and lost his good reputation,” the memorandum states. “His sentence should be a fine only or probation only” reflecting “the need for ‘just punishment’ and ‘adequate deterrence.’”
U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart also filed a memorandum that stated that Ketchum abused his position as a Supreme Court justice.
“As a justice of the Supreme Court, there were no employees higher than he was in the organization," the memorandum states. "He possessed nearly limitless discretion in carrying out his duties and answered to no single individual. He was given a Supreme Court vehicle for commuting purposes because of his position as a justice. His autonomy and discretion allowed him to go for years before the crime was uncovered."
Stuart did, however, note that Ketchum is in his 70s and is not a violent person.
“He does not represent a danger to the community or a threat to repeat his fraudulent conduct," Stuart wrote. "He appears to have learned a harsh lesson.
“Defendant Ketchum, however, stands convicted of a serious crime, notwithstanding the small dollar amount involved in the offense. The offense is significant because of defendant Ketchum’s position as a sitting justice on the highest court in the State of West Virginia. It was his duty to apply and follow the law. The fraudulent conduct thus represents a betrayal of the trust placed in him by the public when it elected him to serve as a justice, and the relatively small amount of loss to the state provides no excuse."
Ketchum pleaded guilty in August to one count of wire fraud. He admitted to using a state-owned vehicle and a state-issued gas card for personal use for golf trips to Virginia.
Ketchum resigned from the state Supreme Court in July.
Former Justice Allen Loughry was sentenced last month to two years in prison and to pay fines and restitution in the amount of $12,273. He will also service three years supervised probation. He was ordered to self-report to prison by April 5.
A jury found Loughry guilty of 11 of the 23 charges he faced in October. He was found guilty of seven counts of wire fraud, one count of mail fraud, two for making false statements to federal agents and one count of witness tampering. Copenhaver later dropped the witness tampering conviction but said the federal government could decide if it wanted to retry Loughry on that charge.