CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Did something corrupt happen in the Rural Rehabilitation Loan program administered by the state Agriculture Department -- or was it just bureaucratic bungling?We're glad that the FBI and U.S. attorney's office are seeking public answers to this disturbing question.After Walt Helmick was elected agriculture commissioner, he requested a routine audit of the agency's programs. Examiners found a mess in a federally funded loan operation. House Speaker Tim Miley and Senate President Jeff Kessler asked federal agents to launch a criminal investigation."We've got some kind of a rogue loan program without any sort of rules, regulations or oversight," Kessler commented Monday.
In a radio interview, Miley called it a "friends and family loan program" and added: "False documents appear to have been submitted inappropriately."Legislative Auditor Aaron Allred said the program got $5 million in U.S. funds and made about $4 million in loans. The operation was supposed to help farmers buy land and equipment -- but nearly half of the money went to restaurants, wholesalers and food firms.Collateral was skimpy. One $149,000 loan was secured by just two acres of land worth $15,700. Another $15,000 loan was backed by a truck and camper valued at $6,200.Former Commissioner Gus Douglass contends that his staff did nothing wrong.It's reassuring that federal agents will determine whether he's correct.