Mollohan Charity Got Rent Deal

Posted March 9, 2009 at 6:42pm

The West Virginia High Tech Consortium has provided more than $75,000 in free rent and administrative services to the Robert H. Mollohan Family Charitable Foundation, according to tax records, while receiving millions of dollars worth of earmarks from Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W. Va.), who serves as the family foundation’s secretary.

The West Virginia High Technology Consortium Foundation is a nonprofit organization that Mollohan helped establish in the 1990s to bring high-tech jobs and training to his district in northern West Virginia. Mollohan has provided the WVHTC with millions of dollars of earmarks from his seat on the House Appropriations Committee. According to documents from an ongoing court case, Mollohan has been intimately involved in some of the organization’s major management decisions.

The Robert H. Mollohan foundation is a charity the family created in 2000 that provides small grants and internship opportunities to local students. It operates out of a building bearing Alan Mollohan’s name that is run by the WVHTC.

Neither Mollohan’s office nor the WVHTC responded to repeated requests from Roll Call for comments on this story.

According to the WVHTC tax records for 2006, the organization made two “non-cash grants— in 2005, both to the Robert H. Mollohan Family Charitable Foundation. One grant provided $41,670 worth of “administrative services,— the other was $34,562 worth of office space. Both gifts are reported as having been made in September 2005.

Last year, the Mollohan family foundation indicated in its tax return that it “conducts scholarships and educational programs previously operated by the West Virginia High Technology Consortium Foundation … in exchange for which the Mollohan Foundation receives a contribution of in-kind space and administrative support from the WVHTC Foundation.— This explanation did not appear in the foundation’s previous tax returns.

In October 2005, the WVHTC issued a press release announcing that its pilot project to use technology to help locate missing children “will be expanded across West Virginia with a $986,643 federal grant obtained by Congressman Alan B. Mollohan.— The release went on to explain that Mollohan “placed the funding in the U.S. Justice Department 2005 budget … a follow-up to the nearly $500,000 he earmarked in 2004 to launch the program.—

Over the years, Mollohan has provided millions of dollars in earmarks for the WVHTC, and though he lists no position with the group on his annual financial disclosure forms, he appears to have been closely involved in the operations of that group and others that he provides with earmarks.

According to testimony in an ongoing lawsuit in a West Virginia county court, the Congressman was a key figure in the decision by leaders of two other nonprofit groups Mollohan had funded with earmarks to merge the entities into the WVHTC — though the testimony is inconsistent as to exactly what role Mollohan played. An executive who lost his job in the merger has filed a wrongful-termination suit in the circuit court of Ohio County, W.Va.

What is clear is that Mollohan created and sustained with earmarks two West Virginia nonprofits serving law enforcement missions. One, called the Office of Law Enforcement Technology Commercialization, helped to locate and market technology that could be useful to law enforcement agencies. A second, the National Corrections & Law Enforcement Training & Technology Center, set up its office in an antique prison in Moundsville, W.Va., and provided training for officers, including an annual mock prison riot.

In a deposition for the lawsuit, Steve Morrison, the former director of the NCLETTC, testified that “Congressman Mollohan asked me to come up here from South Carolina to build a training center.—

Mollohan, acting on a suggestion from West Virginia law enforcement contacts, in July 2000 “asked me to come to meet with him in Washington and asked me to go up there— to set up the training center, Morrison told Roll Call.

Morrison at the time was a federal employee working with the Bureau of Prisons, so he arranged an intergovernmental transfer to move to West Virginia.

Morrison said: “He explained to me what his vision was and how the funding was going to go. … He had appropriated a $1 million earmark to get it started.—

But by 2004, Morrison said, he was recommending that the NCLETTC merge with the Office of Law Enforcement Technology Commercialization “to leverage the government dollars and save money.—

He drafted a memo outlining this proposal and submitted it to Mollohan. He told Roll Call that he sent it to the Congressman because “he was the champion for the earmarks.—

In his deposition in the court case, Morrison acknowledged sending an e-mail to Jim Estep, the head of the WVHTC, indicating that “Congressman Mollohan feels now is the time to consider the consolidation and wants us to discuss it. … The Congressman has asked me to meet with you and then come to DC to discuss my personal future.—

Craig Hartzell, chairman of the OLETC Board and chief executive officer of Azimuth — a defense contracting firm that has benefited from Mollohan earmarks — acknowledged in a deposition that it was “common knowledge that the Congressman called in a number of nonprofits [in early 2004] generally stating, as I understand it, that he was looking at some consolidations.—

Estep said in a deposition in the case that Mollohan had called him to say he was concerned that OLETC might lose its funding because the Justice Department was unhappy with the group’s performance. Mollohan is the top Democrat on the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Justice Department’s spending, and his earmarks to the OLETC went through the Justice Department’s budget.

Estep said he told Hartzell, “The Congressman is letting me know that he’s worried the funding’s going to be cut for OLETC because there’s problems there, and he’s asked me to kind of look into it to see if we can find a solution.—

Both the OLETC and the NCLETTC were ultimately absorbed by Estep’s WVHTC, though the earmarks for both have since expired. Estep said he called Mollohan to ask the Congressman to write a letter to the Justice Department providing his blessing for the transfer of the organizations.

Lawrence Kosiba, who was the director of the OLETC, told Roll Call that Mollohan “was a very demanding Congressman. … He demanded results for what he deemed the charter to be.— But Kosiba said Mollohan was not at all involved in the day-to-day operations of the OLETC. “If I got to see him once or twice a year, I would be happy. … Pretty much, it was hands-off. He didn’t get involved in hirings or firings.—

Kosiba said, “If you are a taxpayer — or a program manager — he was the perfect Congressman to have in place— because he had a vision for a good program and demanded strong results, but he did not get involved in the details. “He was making sure the taxpayer dollars were being used for the right purposes,— Kosiba said.

Morrison told Roll Call the same thing — that Mollohan was a big supporter of the NCLETTC program, but only from a distance.

“Once he was able to get me in place, there was really very, very little contact,— Morrison said. “He didn’t make suggestions on the programs — once he had the vision of opening up a national training center in the city of Moundsville … he basically stood clear of it.—