Former House Education Chairman Jerry Mezzatesta wants the state to reimburse him nearly $1,000 for a three-day visit to Charleston during which he cleaned out his office, said goodbye to friends, and pleaded no contest to a criminal charge in Kanawha County Magistrate Court.Mezzatesta has requested "duty day" pay for this past Saturday, Sunday and Monday at $150 each day. He also put in for $115 in expenses for each of those days, and $192 for mileage to and from his home in Romney.There were no legislative meetings during the weekend or Monday. Mezzatesta cleaned out his office during the weekend and briefly stopped at the Capitol before and after his Monday court appearance."The question is, what did he do when he was here?" asked House Majority Leader Rick Staton, D-Wyoming. "You have to do more than walk into the Capitol [to get reimbursed]. If I was here entering a plea to a misdemeanor charge, I would not turn in my paperwork."
Mezzatesta and his wife, Mary Lou, pleaded no contest Monday to misdemeanor charges that they destroyed and altered legislative computer records. They were placed on 90 days' probation and fined $500 each. The Mezzatestas took part in an elaborate scheme last summer to fend off charges that the nine-term legislator had violated state ethics law, House Education employees have told prosecutors.Mary Lou Mezzatesta has admitted dictating a phony letter as part of the alleged cover-up. The deleted computer records were related to the fabricated letter, which Mezzatesta gave to Ethics Commission officials and prosecutors last summer.Mezzatesta previously was reimbursed $265 in compensation and expenses on the day he and his wife allegedly deleted the House Education office computer files in August.Mezzatesta declined to comment Tuesday, asking, "What do you want?" before hanging up on a reporter.
House Speaker Bob Kiss plans to review Mezzatesta's reimbursement requests, House spokeswoman Stacey Ruckle said Tuesday."He has not had the opportunity to see those forms, so he can't comment until he returns [to Charleston] and reviews them," Ruckle said.Mezzatesta would normally be paid within the next two weeks.Kiss removed Mezzatesta as House Education Committee chairman on Aug. 8. But Kiss allowed Mezzatesta to continue to collect extra "duty day" pay over the past three months.
Each year, the House speaker designates four delegates who may claim duty days. In addition, Kiss, Staton, House Finance Chairman Harold Michael and Judiciary Chairman Jon Amores automatically qualify for duty days under state law.On those days, legislators get paid $150 a day for doing legislative business at the Capitol when the Legislature isn't in session. The select lawmakers may collect extra duty pay for up to 30 days a year. They also get paid during legislative meetings.Mezzatesta, 57, was defeated by a Republican newcomer in the Nov. 2 election. His term officially ended at midnight Tuesday.
State employees said Mezzatesta cleaned out his office on Sunday. He told House workers Monday that he planned to meet briefly with his former lawyer, Richard Lindroth, who also serves as lead counsel to Kiss at the House.House Education Committee member Ray Canterbury, R-Greenbrier, was in the House payroll office Monday when Mezzatesta walked in and submitted his duty day payment and expense forms. Mezzatesta is seeking $987 in reimbursement for his three-day visit to Charleston."He barely spoke," Canterbury recalled Tuesday. "He was handing in some forms. I don't know what else he was doing at the Capitol."Mezzatesta and his wife dropped off his office keys at the House clerk's office Monday afternoon. Clerk's office employees sent a farewell card to Mezzatesta last week."He was always a friend to us," said House Clerk Greg Gray. "He supported us through the years."Mezzatesta's critics, meanwhile, said the delegate's decision to request reimbursement on the same day he appeared in magistrate court was "typical Jerry Mezzatesta."
"The gall of this man. He's sticking it to the taxpayers until the end," said Wanda Carney, co-director of West Virginia Wants to Know, a state-government watch group. "Bob Kiss needs to step up and finally do something for the taxpayers and say, 'Enough is enough.'"Also Tuesday, Carney filed a revised ethics complaint against Mezzatesta and a new complaint against Mezzatesta's wife. The complaint alleges that the Mezzatestas were doing private business for Viking Vending Services on House computers. Mary Lou Mezzatesta owns two-thirds of the company, according to Lottery Commission records.The Ethics Commission also continues to investigate allegations that Mezzatesta improperly solicited grants for Hampshire schools, where he works at a board office administrator.Mezzatesta is currently off work on sick leave. Earlier this month, he announced he has prostate cancer.