Federal effort targets fraud in W.Va.

'We are prepared to hold them accountable.'

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WHEELING, W.Va. -- The top federal prosecutor in northern West Virginia announced Thursday the creation of a new unit with a special hotline to aggressively pursue public corruption in a state known for malfeasance.

U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld said most Mountain State officials are doing the right thing, "but there's a long history of corruption in our state and there are always a handful of people who are in it to help themselves or their friends and families. And we are prepared to hold them accountable."

Flanked by officials from the FBI, IRS-Criminal Investigation and the state police, Mr. Ihlenfeld urged those with tips about corrupt officials to call a toll-free line, 1-855-WVA-FEDS, or send an email to wvafeds@usdoj.gov.

Tipsters may remain anonymous.

Mr. Ihlenfeld said public corruption will become a priority of his office and said he has reassigned one of his top prosecutors, John Parr, from narcotics to corruption.

Before coming to Wheeling, Mr. Parr prosecuted corruption cases in southern West Virginia, where voter fraud has long been pervasive.

In Wheeling, he has largely pursued drug dealers, most recently a major pill-mill network involving an Ohio Valley ring that was doctor-shopping for oxycodone in Florida and South Carolina and distributing the drugs on the streets in Ohio and West Virginia.

Mr. Ihlenfeld said several other staffers will concentrate on asset forfeiture, but he said his office will not ignore other crimes.

He has hired two new assistant U.S. attorneys, one for the Wheeling office and one in Clarksburg, to bring his staff to 20 prosecutors.

The new corruption unit will receive support from other federal agencies along with the secretary of state, the West Virginia Ethics Commission and the state Commission on Special Investigations.

Mr. Ihlenfeld said his office already had several significant corruption cases in the works, the results of which should become public this year. But no single event triggered the initiative.

He said in his travels across the state he has heard complaints about corruption and decided it required a coordinated approach and the sharing of information across jurisdictions and agencies.

While he could not discuss specifics, he said the new team will concentrate on government officials who use their office for personal gain through bribery, extortion, kickbacks and fraud.

Investigating such crimes requires insiders to blow the whistle, but often those people don't know who to approach with information.

Now they do, Mr. Ihlenfeld said.

"We're going to need help from the public," he said.

region

Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510. First Published April 20, 2012 12:00 AM


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